Women Veterans Committee Update September/October 2021

BY KATE O’HARE-PALMER, CHAIR

The committee had a Zoom meeting in September. We have been doing individual communications by email for this last quarter. Our Women Veterans Honor Coins have sold out, and we thank the VVA members who helped support this project. We still have Women Veteran Honor Lapel pins for sale, 10 for $30. We will bring them to the Convention.

I was part of a group meeting with a DOD committee working on the 2021 military sexual assault report. The DOD SAPRO office 2020 report has shown that new policies and programs will not be effective unless every military member and leader complies with them. Secretary of Defense Gen. Lloyd Austin has spearheaded immediate actions to counter these corrosive behaviors and to provide better visibility on the ground to ensure that all members are doing their part to eliminate these behaviors.

The adjudication for these offenses must be removed from the chain of command. The Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military and an accompanying factsheet can be found at www.sapr.mil. The oversight reports for the VA Office of Inspector General have identified challenges for MST Coordinators. Sexual trauma experienced while serving in the military affects both women and men. It has potentially serious and long-term consequences. Psychological trauma, such as MST, also increases the risk of physical health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has moved several bills forward that affect women veterans’ health care and benefits. VVA has sent a letter to the committee’s chair, Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), supporting the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2021. This is a hugely important bill that will amend Title 38 of the U.S. Code to expand VA benefits and health care for military sexual trauma and other purposes.

We are pleased that both DOD and VA seem now to be taking this seriously, finally acknowledging sexual trauma as a crime. In 2003 the VHA accepted the term “Military Sexual Trauma.” Public Law 108-422 made the VA’s provision of sexual trauma services a permanent benefit.

Cyber harassment is a new addition to the 2021 bill. There are major changes in the Disability Claims processing with the expansion of standards of proof and of the MST mental health conditions eligible for VBA disability compensation.

Another bill is the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act sponsored by Sens. Tester and Boozman (R-Ark.). This has been a long time coming. Women veterans have had a difficult time receiving timely and consistent standards of care in imaging, telemammography, BRCA testing for those diagnoses with breast cancer, and accessible mammography for paralyzed and disabled veterans. Title II directs the VA to work with the National Cancer Institute for research and access to care for clinical trials in outlying areas. It will require reports to be submitted every three years so that advancements made can be incorporated into opportunities for further innovation.

Travel pay has undergone some big changes throughout the VA system. Most veterans can now receive payments after clinic and hospital visits via direct deposit to a previously designated bank account. No more long waits in line. However, many veterans are choosing to continue submitting paper claims rather than deal with the computerized system. The House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees are urging the VA to make critical improvements to this travel reimbursement program.

The Community Care program is continuing to work on supplying health care for veterans in their local towns, rather than have them wait and then travel long distances to a VA facility. There have been some kinks in this system, especially with timely mental health care. If you have any issues, contact your local Community Care office.

I hope to see many of you in North Carolina at the Convention. Until then, stay safe and mask up!


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