Members of the National Guard and Reserves will be able to seek help for military sexual trauma through the Department of Veterans Affairs, if a proposal from U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, goes through.
A technicality in an existing law prevents most members of the guard and reserves from using the military sexual trauma, or MST, program, according to Courtney. The VA defines MST as experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment experienced during military service.
The program, which was established as part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, allows active duty service members, including members of the guard and reserves, to seek care services and counseling for MST through the VA without a referral from the Department of Defense. The thinking was that service members would feel more comfortable seeking care outside of their chain of command or military treatment facilities, Courtney said. Originally, the program limited treatment to being provided through Vets Centers, but that was later expanded to include medical centers.
However by limiting the program to “active duty” service members, it excludes members of the guard and reserves who do not fall under that status.
Linda Schwartz, a resident of southeastern Connecticut who previously served as assistant secretary for policy and planning for the VA, brought the issue to Courtney’s attention. Schwartz “passionately made the case that reservists should be given the same opportunity active duty members were provided in the 2014 Choice Act,” Courtney said.
His proposal was included as part of a larger defense policy bill recently passed by the House. The Senate has its own version of the bill; the two bills eventually will have to be merged and both chambers will have to vote to approve the final measure.
Schwartz said by phone Thursday that the existing law includes conflicting language like “may” and “shall,” which does not imply that the program is required. Another issue, she said, is that there’s not enough awareness about the program.
The VA says that 233 active duty service members received treatment for MST at a Vet Center in fiscal year 2015. However, it doesn’t have the most accurate method for tracking this data, Courtney said, so the number may be understated.
Originally published in the New London Day – July 20, 2017
By: Julia BergmanJuly 20th, 2017