Report Summary

Title: Improvements Still Needed in Processing Military Sexual Trauma Claims
Report Number: 20-00041-163 Download
Issue Date: 8/5/2021
VA Office: Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
Report Author: Office of Audits and Evaluations
Report Type: Review
Release Type: Unrestricted

The Defense Department estimates that two of every three sexual assaults suffered during military service go unreported. As a result, evidence of the trauma can be difficult to subsequently produce or validate, posing a special challenge for VA when processing related veterans’ benefit claims for posttraumatic stress disorder.

In response, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has established special procedures to help veterans support their claims when they do not have the evidence or documentation usually required. However, in an August 2018 report, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that about half of the military sexual trauma claims denied between April 1 and September 30, 2017, were not properly processed under VBA procedures, resulting in premature denial. These premature denials could have resulted in veterans not receiving the benefits they deserved. The OIG made six recommendations intended to help VBA review and correct all prematurely denied claims since October 1, 2016, and to better process them in the future.

This report examined whether VBA effectively implemented the OIG’s 2018 recommendations and found that processors did not always follow the updated policies and procedures. VBA leaders did not effectively implement the OIG’s recommendations and did not ensure adequate governance over military sexual trauma claims processing. The OIG concluded that VBA was not properly implementing the recommended changes.

The OIG recommended the acting under secretary for benefits should establish a formal procedure to correct all claims processing errors identified by the OIG. The OIG also recommended the acting under secretary fix continuing military sexual trauma claims processing deficiencies and strengthen controls to effectively implement and promote compliance with the OIG’s 2018 recommendations. Lastly, the acting under secretary should ensure VBA strengthen communication, oversight, and accountability for the processing of military sexual trauma claims.