Recognizing that support for the victim is just as important as convicting the perpetrator, U.S. Senators Mark Begich and Jon Tester of Montana led a forum at the Alaska YWCA to focus on providing the best care for victims who are sexually assaulted while in the military.
Sen. Begich was pleased to welcome Sen. Tester, a fellow member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to Alaska where they heard firsthand during the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Treatment Best Practices Forum from providers who described the strategies that are most effective in mitigating the mental health injuries of military sexual trauma victims.
"This forum is important for two reasons," said Sen. Begich. "First, we need to make sure funding is focused on care strategy programs that work. Second, we need to make sure that the survivors of these horrific crimes have the opportunity to receive the most effective treatment we can provide for these injuries received while they were in service to our nation. I was pleased to hear about Alaska resources like the YWCA's Alaska Veterans Organization for Women which provides female veterans with community services, healing workshops and access to veterans benefits."
"Solving military sexual assault is about more than prosecuting the criminals. Although prosecuting the perpetrators is one important component, just as critical is addressing the unseen and extensive problems created by military sexual trauma, namely the decades of PTSD, depression, sorrow and relationship challenges its victims face," said Begich.
Unfortunately, MST injuries are both extensive and intensive in our society. Last year, the Veterans Administration (VA) provided care to more than 85,000 vets living with the effects of sexual trauma. With over 20 percent of women vets and 2 percent of male vets reporting being victims of MST, these numbers are anticipated to grow substantially as 200,000 new vets leave military service each year.
Sen. Begich was heartened by the recent renewed emphasis on passage of Senator Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act. Sen. Begich, along with 37 other senators, is a co-sponsor of this bill that would take key decisions in the investigation and prosecution of military sexual assault outside of the chain of command. That bill will be debated soon on the Senate floor.
Background on MST:
A recent Department of Defense (DoD) study concluded more than 26,000 sexual assaults in the military were committed in 2012 alone.
MST injuries are long-lasting. The VA is still providing care for Vietnam War era MST victims for their injuries.
For women vets, those who are victims of MST are nine times as likely to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For women vets who are homeless, 40 percent are victims of MST.
Although all agree that treatment for these injuries is an imperative, there is not a consensus on how to best provide this treatment. Sen. Begich observed: "As we go into Veterans Day weekend, we should recognize more than ever the importance of addressing the long-term pain and suffering inflicted on our service members who are victims of sexual assault. It is an absolute necessity that we make sure we are doing everything we can to assist them."