Frustrated by Pentagon efforts, Connecticut groups that work with veterans have informed some 1,500 veterans that they can apply for upgrades of “bad paper” military discharge statuses if they have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although tens of thousands of veterans nationwide are eligible to apply for PTSD-related upgrades, just 1,180 have done so, according to figures provided by the Pentagon to the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic. In 2014, then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a policy to make it easier for veterans with PTSD to upgrade their discharge statuses and become eligible for veterans’ benefits. “Most people don’t know about it,” said Olivia Horton, a Yale law student, working on the project to contact Connecticut veterans by mail. She said frustration with the Pentagon’s public outreach “was the impetus” to contact veterans directly.
Veterans’ advocacy groups Thursday accused the Veterans Administration of discriminating against military sexual assault victims seeking benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, saying they receive “significantly’’ more denials than veterans with other types of PTSD claims.
The national figures show “a particularly hostile environment” at the VA for victims of military sexual assault, said Anu Bhagwati, Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) executive director, during a teleconference news briefing, calling the experience of seeking VA benefits “unnecessarily grueling, humiliating and exhausting.”
The report found that women filed two-thirds of PTSD claims based on sexual assault, that it’s the most prevalent reason for female veterans’ PTSD claims, and as a result, women are “disparately impacted” by lower approval rates. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut, the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, and SWAN released a report they wrote based on figures they obtained from the VA after settlements in two lawsuits. The data mainly cover the years 2008 through 2012. During those years, the approval rate for women with sexual assault-based claims ranged from 33.7 percent to a high of 59.2 percent. But, the approval rate for women for PTSD benefits from other issues ranged from 46.7 percent to 72.8 percent.