(Originally reported in the Richmond Register. )
Congressman Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, recently reintroduced H.R. 5757, the Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment (SAVE) Act. The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to approve a veteran’s community care in order to recover from military sexual trauma if community care is the veteran’s choice.
“The Military SAVE Act is needed legislation that will empower military sexual trauma (MST) survivors to choose the best medical treatment for their situation. Victims of military sexual assault deserve the flexibility, compassion and discretion to receive care in a location that is most comfortable to them,” Barr said in the release. “In a time where we are seeing sexual harassment of veterans at VA facilities, it is essential we in Congress ensure our veterans are not retraumatized at the very place meant to help them.”
H.R. 5757 would require the VA to approve a veteran’s counseling, care and services in the community in order to recover from military sexual trauma if community care is the veteran’s choice and require the VA to inform veterans seeking non-department MST treatment of the counseling, care, and services that are available to the veteran within the VA.
“Military sexual assault survivors must be treated with the utmost respect, dignity, and care,” Gabbard said in the release. “While we must remain focused on our mission to improve the way in which our VA leadership responds to military sexual assault as well as the quality and accessibility of treatment for military sexual assault survivors at the VA, this bill will help by quickly expanding access to treatment for survivors.”
The Military SAVE Act would remove “psychological trauma” references in statue and replace the language with broader authorities when describing the scope of services offered to veterans seeking MST care, according to a release. H.R. 5757 would also remove the requirement that a VA mental health professional must determine whether a VA patient’s condition qualifies for care and instead permit the veteran’s treating provider — either medical or mental health — to make the determination.
An estimated one in four female veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans in the VA healthcare system report having previously experienced military sexual trauma. A February 2019 study by VA researchers found that one in four women veterans experienced sexual harassment, denigration of service or other hostile behavior while seeking treatment for military sexual trauma, which sometimes resulted in a delay in seeking treatment or avoiding treatment altogether.
This is the fourth time Congressman Barr has introduced similar legislation, the release notes. The problem was first brought to the Congressman’s attention in 2013 by a group of women in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District.