Dear Gen. Shinseki,
In 1987, at age 18, I joined the Navy eager to fight for my country. I had no idea that two and a half months into my first assignment, I would be raped – twice – by my supervisor. That was the first betrayal - resulting in a life filled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraines, a sexually transmitted disease, nine miscarriages, suicide attempts, homelessness, an end to my marriage, and terror I have lived with ever since. Now in my 40s, I am permanently and totally disabled. PTSD affects my ability to maintain employment, trust in relationships, and even get up in the morning.
The second betrayal I experienced was when the Veterans Administration (VA) denied me disability benefits for PTSD that I was entitled to by law.
After twenty-three years of fighting the VA, I finally had my claim awarded – but only at a 70% rating. In two and a half decades, dealing with the aftermath of my assault without any VA support, I suffered enormously.
I am not alone. By DOD’s own estimates, over 19,000 service members are assaulted in the military each year - over 500,000 men and women in the past five decades. For countless veterans like me, a denied VA claim is the second betrayal, and can mean the difference between life and death. And yet the VA has established a completely biased, unjust system for approving PTSD disability benefits. It’s a system designed to make veterans suffer.
Last year, the civil rights organization Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) uncovered appalling data. From 2008-2010, the VA only approved 32.3% of Military Sexual Trauma-related PTSD claims versus 54.2% of all other PTSD claims. It’s not surprising – the VA requires survivors like me to provide evidence that usually doesn’t exist, and even when we do provide it, the VA doesn’t believe us. Why are we punished twice?
The VA has the authority to make a simple regulatory change, so that Military Sexual Trauma survivors aren’t held to a higher standard of proof than other veterans with PTSD. I am asking you to revise VA policy immediately – so that veterans like me do not have to live the rest of their lives in pain, or worse – take their own lives.
General Shinseki, you must act now. You have the ability to help and save hundreds of thousands of lives with the power of your pen.