Today, Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24) and Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE-02) introduced bipartisan legislation to support U.S. veterans who experienced sexual trauma during their service by updating how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) calculates benefits related to those injuries.
The Veteran Restitution and Justice Act would change the effective date of a veteran's claim to allow veterans who experience sexual trauma during their service to receive retroactive disability benefits, starting from the date after their discharge from service rather than the claim file date.
"Earlier this term, my office and I had the chance to work with a veteran from the Central Coast who had finally mustered up the courage to report her own history of military sexual trauma more than 25 years after the incident, only to be told her benefits would only be considered back to the day she spoke up," said Rep. Carbajal. "Our veterans deserve better when it comes to this historically underreported injury, especially as we acknowledge the stigma around this issue. That's why I've worked across the aisle with Congressman Bacon--a fellow veteran in Congress--to craft legislation to deliver restitution for these survivors of sexual trauma and justice for the many veterans who we know faced these injuries while serving our nation."
"Sexual assault in the military happens too often, and can leave veterans with injuries, trauma, anxiety, and depression," said Rep. Bacon. "When I was a Wing Commander at Ramstein, I established the best sexual assault prevention program in the Air Force. Now we need to take extra steps to support servicemembers after they take off the uniform. Changing the effective date of when veterans receive payment is critical to them getting the treatment resources needed to recover faster."
Currently, most benefits provided by the VA are calculated using the day the claim was filed.
But with survivors of military sexual traumas (including unwanted sexual contact or advances), there is a historical trend of stigma and underreporting, meaning veterans may wait years before filing a VA claim.
Congressman Carbajal and his team worked with one such case: a female veteran from the Central Coast of California who was granted benefits related to PTSD caused by a sexual trauma during her service but filed a claim more than 25 years after the injury, diminishing the total benefit that she qualified to receive.
The VA estimates that 1 in 3 female veterans and 1 in 50 male veterans experienced sexual trauma in some form during their service.
In certain cases, like exposure to Agent Orange or other toxic chemicals, the VA has granted retroactive benefits. But no such retroactivity exists for claims related to sexual trauma, despite the enduring effects these injuries can have on a veteran.