Elaine Luria leads hearing to empower veteran survivors of military sexual trauma

Elaine LuriaHouse Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Chairwoman Elaine Luria (VA-02) on Thursday led a legislative and oversight hearing to help ensure access to disability benefits for veteran survivors of military sexual trauma.

The Subcommittee discussed H.R. 1092, the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2019, a bill that would expand health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for MST.

At the hearing, Congresswoman Luria highlighted the VA’s resistance to expressly allow the inclusion of online records as evidence of MST.

In questioning Willie Clark, Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration, Chairwoman Luria highlighted VA’s stated opposition to Section 3 of H.R. 1092, which would expand coverage by the VA of counseling and treatment for sexual trauma to include technological abuse and cyberbullying on digital platforms, such as social media.

This opposition exists despite Clark’s written testimony to the Subcommittee stating that “many clinicians” would consider digital abuse “as falling within the scope of the existing definition of MST.”

Luria asked Clark to explain.

In response, Clark deferred to Dr. Margaret Bell, National Deputy Director for Military Sexual Trauma at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Dr. Bell said she thought that, at a practical level, VHA is already operating in a way that would allow survivors to use social media evidence against abusers.

“You say you ‘think,’” Luria said. “Is it perfectly clear? Is it in writing? Why should we leave the ambiguity?”

“I think it would be perfectly fine to put it in writing,” Dr. Bell said.

“I think that digital media, social media records … are certainly evidence that we should allow people to present if that’s the means by which the abuse occurred,” Luria said.

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