We have spoken before about how abuse and sexual assault can cause PTSD in domestic violence survivors, but victims of intimate partner violence are not the only ones suffering from the disorder following sexual assault. A bill supported by the House of Representatives as of Monday would force the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to identify sexual assault as a cause of mental illness in the military.
While recognizing PTSD in the military at all, even combat-related PTSD, has been resisted heavily, recognizing sexual assault-related PTSD has been even more problematic. The military environment can be conducive to sexual assault because of the hierarchy of soldiers and the pressure to respect superior officers at any cost. Many superior officers are in a position where they would not be held accountable for committing sexual assault, and there are those who take advantage of that position. Because of the nature of the relationship between soldiers of different ranks, many people in the military feel pressured to submit to sexual assault of a superior and unable to come forward afterward. Sexual assault is the leading cause of PTSD for women in the military, but many male soldiers experience sexual assault as well and while combat is considered the leading cause of PTSD in male soldiers, those numbers can be hard to quantify as men are less likely to come forward about sexual assault.
The proposed bill would force the VA to recognize that sexual assault in the military is a problem, and that it causes mental health issues in veterans. Therefore, disability compensation must be provided for veterans who have suffered sexual assault while in service. The bill would qualify a statement by the victim as sufficient proof that a sexual assault occurred. The House passed a similar bill in 2013 but the Senate did not approve it at that time.
The Defense Department estimates that only 13.5% of 19,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2010, and according to the Service Women’s Action Network the VA has disregarded 2/3 of sexual assault allegations.
Passing this bill could not only protect veterans but bring a sense of legitimacy to the testimony of sexual assault victims in general, the validity of which is all too often doubted. This bill proposes that a victim’s testimony must be taken seriously which may be one of its most important attributes. Just allowing veterans to safely come forward about sexual assault would be a huge step towards protecting servicemen and women, and the mental health care that this bill would provide could help countless veterans to recover from sexual trauma they experienced while in service.