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Letter to Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Michaud - Sexual Assault in the Military

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) today led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in calling for a hearing on the Department of Veterans' Affairs' (VA) efforts to meet the current and projected needs of veteran survivors of military sexual trauma. The group's letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee comes in the wake of a disturbing Pentagon report that revealed a sharp increase of sexual assaults in the military, and amidst reports of sexual assault prevention officers who have been accused of sexual misconduct.

"We must ensure that personnel at the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have the training and resources necessary to provide the counseling, medical care, and support needed by sexual assault survivors," the group wrote. "We respectfully request that the Committee conduct a hearing on the VA's efforts to meet the current and projected future needs of veteran survivors of military sexual trauma. The objective of this hearing would be to shed more light on this problem in order to inform VA policies and legislative solutions to improve services for these veterans."

"We know you share our commitment to stopping sexual assault in the military and to strengthening the VA's ability to provide wounded warriors with the respect, support, health care, and compensation they have earned and deserve," the letter continued. "We look forwarding to working with you to take additional necessary steps to address this serious matter."

Last week, a Pentagon report found that the number of service members anonymously reporting sexual assaults increased by more than 30% over the past two years. According to the report, there were roughly 19,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2011 alone, but fewer than 3,200 were reported. In 2012, the report found that the number of cases grew to 26,000, with fewer than 3,400 cases reported.

Kuster has been outspoken on the need for action to address the ongoing epidemic of military sexual trauma. Last week, she helped advance the Ruth Moore Act, legislation which would push the VA to improve benefits for survivors of sexual trauma in the military. She is also a cosponsor of legislation that would enhance whistleblower protections for service members who report instances of sexual assault in the military.

Earlier this month, Kuster toured the new women's center at the White River Junction VA Medical Center and spoke with staff about the need for improved services for survivors of military sexual trauma. In April, Kuster wrote an op-ed focused on the need for bipartisan action to better prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military.

Kuster is a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and the bipartisan Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.

The full text of the letter is below.

May 16, 2013

Dear Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Michaud:

Thank you for your continued work to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) fulfills its commitment to provide veterans with the care they have earned. We commend you both for your ongoing work to confront the issue of military sexual assault and improve VA mental health services.

As you know, last week the Department of Defense released their Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military and found that the number of service members who have experienced unwanted sexual contact has increased by 35 percent since 2010, from 19,300 service members believed to be victims in 2011 to 26,000 in 2012. These numbers are staggering.

Sexual assault in the military is a serious issue that continues to plague the Armed Services and has justifiably garnered significant congressional and public attention. What is more troubling is that many of the worst cases and saddest stories are those we'll never know about -- the countless men and women who have been sexually abused but won't step forward for fear of retaliation.

We must ensure that the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs properly train their personnel and utilize the necessary resources they have been equipped with to provide the counseling, medical care, and support needed by sexual assault survivors. To that end, we respectfully request that the Committee conduct a hearing on the VA's efforts to meet the current and projected needs of veteran survivors of military sexual trauma. The objective of this hearing would be to assess what the VA is currently doing to treat veterans who have been sexually assaulted and what can be done to improve VA policies to better help veterans.

We know you share our commitment to stopping sexual assault in the military and to strengthening the VA's ability to provide wounded warriors with the respect, support, health care, and compensation they have earned and deserve. We look forwarding to working with you to take additional necessary steps to address this serious matter. Thank you for your consideration of this request.


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