Maximizing VA Benefits for

Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma:

A Practical Guide for Survivors

and Their Advocates

Affecting active duty personnel

Veterans alike, both male and female

A Practical Guide for Survivors

and Their Advocates

Maximizing VA Benefits for

Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma:

A Practical Guide for Survivors

and Their Advocates

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Within the Department of Veterans Affairs disability claims adjudication system, when survivors of Military Sexual Trauma disclose prior, pre-enlistment abuse, this disclosure often results in the denial of a claim for service connection -- even when the legitimacy of the rape or sexual assault is not disputed.

INTRODUCING THE NEW ARTICLE IN THE COLUMBIA JOURNAL OF GENDER & LAW

Attorneys Major Evan R. Seamone (U.S. Army) and David M. Traskey (Department of Veterans Affairs), conduct a far-reaching study of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) cases in the VA system and identify the hidden problem of cumulative—pre-enlistment—trauma as a basis used to deny survivors’ disability compensation claims in new article published by the Columbia Journal of Gender & Law.

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After decades of highly-publicized sexual assault incidents in the military and more recent indications of increasing reports of military sexual assault, Congress and the military leadership are addressing the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the Armed Forces head-on.  While prevention efforts are vital, there is mounting concern for veterans of the Armed Forces who have left the Service following an assault.

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Most survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) leave the military before their enlistments are completed, often due to psychiatric conditions and the consequences of reporting these traumatic experiences, provided that they were lucky enough to receive the necessary support to raise the issue without retaliation or ostracism.  These survivors most commonly suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric conditions that may last for their lifetimes.  Increasingly, legislators and advocacy groups have noted the tremendous challenges these survivors face when applying for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).   The VA rules impose a special requirement that a survivor be able to prove by a 50% chance or greater that the assault happened, even as standards for proving causation of combat-related trauma have recently been liberalized.  Among numerous solutions to the problem, a leading proposal is to afford a similar presumption of causation for MST.  In a new law review article published by Columbia Law School’s Journal of Gender & Law, Attorneys Evan R. Seamone and David M. Traskey examine countless VA legal decisions which underscore how cumulative trauma is a major problem that has been overlooked to date.  This hidden problem will still prevent many MST survivors from obtaining necessary disability compensation, even if liberalizing legislation is adopted to assist MST survivors in proving that the assault happened during military service.

A major problem facing MST survivors is the fact that a great majority of those enlisted in the Armed Forces have already suffered previous trauma—usually childhood sexual assault.  For many, especially women, the military has truly offered an escape from abusive environments and the hope of establishing a military family and culture to join in order to gain independence from oppression, as well as a sense of responsibility and purpose.  The VA’s standards require that mental health conditions either must have been caused or aggravated by military service.  Too often, when a survivor discloses prior abuse, this disclosure results in denial of a claim for service connection—even when there is no question regarding the legitimacy of the rape or sexual assault.  Drawing on their combined experience as a criminal justice division chief within the Army who has prosecuted several military rape and sexual assault cases for over a decade and a VA attorney who has adjudicated MST cases at the appellate level, Seamone and Traskey offer solutions to solve the problem of how to successfully put forth a claim for service-connection, even when the survivor has pre-enlistment sexual trauma.  Beyond this, they provide insight on the VA’s own internal regulations and other hard-to-obtain adjudication materials to provide a clear and accurate picture of the VA adjudication process, emphasizing how any MST survivor can maximize her or his chances of success at each step of the process from initial application, through medical examination, to determinations of diagnosis and causation.

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Recognizing the difficulty of passing new legislation or regulatory provisions, the authors work within the constraints of the current system and provide guidance that can be implemented immediately.  The article offers solutions for MST survivors, their advocates, and active duty sexual assault response professionals and special counsel to get these survivors the benefits they have rightfully earned.

 

Click on the law review icon below to obtain a free electronic copy of Major Seamone and Mr. Traskey’s article, “Maximizing VA Benefits for Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma:  A Practical Guide for Survivors and Their Advocates,” published in Volume 26.2 of the 2014 edition of the Columbia Journal of Gender & Law.

LAUNCH ARTICLE

Special Note:  Although both authors are government employees, they have written this article from an entirely personal capacity and it does not represent the official positions of any military or governmental organization, to include the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

READ THE ARTICLE

CJGL_2014
Maximizing VA Benefits for Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma:
A Practical Guide for Survivors and Their Advocates
This article offers tools to help veterans apply for disability benefits related to sexual assault or harassment during their military service. It also identifies special considerations for veterans with conditions related to hazing and veterans who experienced other incidents of pre-enlistment trauma before they were assaulted during military service.

MEET THE AUTHORS

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EVAN R. SEAMONE
Major Evan R. Seamone has served as an Army prosecutor, defense attorney, capital litigation attorney, and Chief of Military Justice. He has published widely in scholarly journals on topics from national security and international law to medical malpractice. Aside from writing about techniques to help attorneys effectively represent combat veteran clients with PTSD, he has instructed courses on this topic to public defenders, military disability evaluators, judges, and members of the Veterans Health Administration. He authored the first publication with standards to improve family court assessments of parents with PTSD for the purpose of child custody determinations in the Family Court Review (April 2012) and recently developed a series of practical tools to assist attorneys and paralegals in mitigating the effects of exposure to traumatic case material in the prosecution of sex crimes.
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DAVID M. TRASKEY
David M. Traskey is an attorney, formerly employed at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, in Washington, D.C. He served in a variety of capacities at the Board for nearly six years, including as a line attorney, member of the Office of Quality Review, and as an Acting Veterans Law Judge (AVLJ).  Prior to his Federal service, David worked as a briefing attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas (the court of last resort for all criminal matters), as a law clerk to two U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and as a Capitol Hill staffer.

Special Note:  Although both authors are government employees, they have written this article from an entirely personal capacity and it does not represent the official positions of any military or governmental organization, to include the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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