Posted by Gregory M. Rada | May 12, 2018 | Legal Update
Military Sexual Trauma (military sexual trauma) is psychological trauma, which results from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment and which occurs while a veteran is serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. It happens more often than many people know – to both women and men.
Yet while military sexual trauma is not confined to one gender, a new lawsuit alleges gender disparities in how the VA treats disability claims that have military sexual trauma elements. In particular, the lawsuit alleges that the VA is biased against men who apply for military sexual trauma-related benefits.
The advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit—Protect Our Defenders and Connecticut Veterans Legal Center—became concerned about institutional bias against male victims of military sexual trauma after it came to light that VA personnel had been making homophobic, racist, and sexist remarks in government emails and in an online forum. As alleged in the Complaint: “multiple senior Veterans Law Judges and attorneys at the Board of Veterans Appeals routinely exchanged bigoted messages over government email and in an online message board that they called the “Forum of Hate’.” These exchanges took place over a period of years from 2007 to 2015 and were primarily aimed at male victims of military sexual trauma.
While the VA did discipline some of the individuals involved, it is unclear whether the VA ever conducted a complete review of all appeals handled by the personnel involved, or whether there is a larger pattern of bias against male victims of military sexual trauma.
Protect Our Defenders and Connecticut Veterans Legal Center resorted to filing the lawsuit after the VA refused to fully comply with their requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests sought information regarding all disability claims with military sexual trauma elements, broken down by gender and type of claim. The VA provided some data in response to the FOIA requests, but did not break down that data by gender. After the VA refused to provide the requested information, Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit asking a court to compel the VA to hand it over.
The VA filed its answer to the Complaint on April 16, 2018, denying all allegations and stating that the Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Court has ordered that motions to dismiss the case be filed by October 6, 2018.
Veterans, advocates, and the public have a right to know if there has been institutional bias against male military sexual trauma survivors. The law obligates the VA to remain fair and impartial when adjudicating all claims for disability benefits.
If you have suffered military sexual trauma and are currently experiencing related anxiety, PTSD, or other disabling conditions, I can help you obtain the benefits you are entitled to. I represent both male and female veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma.
Gregory Rada is a Veterans Benefits Attorney who practices Nationwide. He graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law, and has been practicing law for six years. Gregory Rada believes in fighting for fellow veterans. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.