The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken a unique approach to assisting an underserved veteran population seeking disability benefits. Members of a Facebook group for military sexual trauma survivors were recently joined by a VA benefits claim officer, Heather Lonigro.
Lonigro introduced herself to the Facebook group, “Women Veterans for Equality in our VA System,” and offered her assistance in navigating the VA claims process. According to VA numbers, one in four female veterans experience some form of sexual harassment or assault during their service. As the female military population grows, so have the cases of military sexual trauma.
Many women seeking benefits related to mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that developed from sexual assault find it difficult to develop the evidence necessary to make their claim. A lot of sexual misconduct goes unreported or is filed as classified information, making it nearly impossible for some female veterans to show that their PTSD is related to military sexual trauma during service.
Undersecretary of benefits Allison Hickey, who made the decision to place Lonigro in contact with the Facebook group, is working on several other methods to make applying for and recovering VA benefits easier for military sexual trauma victims. She is currently in talks with the Pentagon to form a special program to allow the VA’s benefits department to look at restricted files that contain reports on sexual assault cases within the military.
Women are not the only victims of military sexual assault. According to the Facebook group’s founder, 19 survivors of sexual assault, including one man, have won benefits since Lonigro started assisting with claims.
While the Facebook group representative is a great step in outreach to veterans, there are still thousands of veterans struggling to prove their eligibility for disability benefits. Veterans Help Group® is a disability advocacy group dedicated to helping veterans of all genders, conflicts, and ranks seek disability benefits no matter what their condition may be. If you are a veteran who believes your disabling health conditions are the result of your military service, contact us today to learn about your options: 1-855-855-8992.