MD. Senator Co-sponsoring Bill Helping Veteran Victims of Sexual Assault

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D) announced on February 11, 2016 that she has joined the bipartisan effort to support military victims of sexual assault by becoming a cosponsor of the Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment (SAVE) Act. This legislation will allow military sexual trauma (MST) survivors to seek treatment in civilian facilities, outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Other cosponsors of the Military SAVE Act include Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Senator Joni Ernst (R) introduced the bill on February 9, 2016.

Although reports of sexual assault in the military have decreased by roughly 27 percent according to a CNN report, there were still an estimated 18,900 cases of sexual assault in the 2014 fiscal year. The Military SAVE Act will allow MST survivors to take “control of their health care by giving them the opportunity, flexibility and discretion to choose treatment options that best suit their needs,” according to Senator Mikulski’s press release.

The Department of Veterans Affairs defines sexual assault as “psychological trauma resulting from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.” This bill affects MST survivors who were assaulted while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive training.

“This bipartisan legislation meets compelling human need for victims of military sexual assault by ensuring that they have access to timely care from a doctor in their own community that best suits their needs,” Senator Mikulski said. “Victims may suffer lasting trauma, prejudice and overwhelming obstacles, and it is our duty to provide them with a reliable healthcare system that can assist their needs. Promises made must be promises kept.”
Senator Mark Kirk (R) spoke strongly on the subject. “The culture of corruption at the VA is systemic and real, and no serviceman or woman should ever feel limited in their ability to seek quality care after experiencing sexual assault.”

In order to seek treatment outside of the VA under the Military SAVE Act, the MST survivor would need to merely report a sexual assault, even one previously documented, to the Veterans Choice Card benefits hotline, and the survivor would automatically be authorized to seek civilian help. Currently, military members must meet certain eligibility requirements in order to receive non-VA treatment, such as living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility.

The Military SAVE Act, which amends the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, is the companion to H.R. 1603, a bill put before the house by Congressman Andy Barr (R-KY). Both the Military SAVE Act and H.R. 1603 have received bipartisan support. H.R. 1603 was in subcommittee hearings as of November 17, 2015.

As of February 9, 2016, the Military SAVE Act had been read twice and had been passed to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

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