VA rejects more PTSD claims linked to sexual trauma than to combat, study finds
Stars and Stripes January 17, 2024
U.S. veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from military sexual trauma are more likely to have disability claims denied than their counterparts who submitted combat-related PTSD claims, according to a new study.
Yale University researchers examined nearly five years of Department of Veterans Affairs data and found that military sexual assault-related claims were denied 27.6% of the time, compared with 18.2% for combat-related PTSD claims.
The study, released earlier this month in the medical journal PLOS One, also found disparities based on race and gender.
For example, men who filed PTSD claims related to sexual trauma were 1.78 times more likely than women to have their claims denied. The rejection rate was 36.6% for men and 25.4% for women, according to the study.
Meanwhile, Black veterans had 1.39 times higher odds of denial of their claims of PTSD from sexual trauma than white veterans, 32.4% for the former and 25.3% for the latter, researchers found.
“This is the first empirical study to identify racial and gender disparities in awarding of (military sexual trauma)-related PTSD VA benefits, and as compared to combat-related claims,” researcher Aliya Webermann, an instructor at the Yale School of Medicine, said in a statement Tuesday.
The findings are based on 102,409 combat-related claims and 31,803 claims related to military sexual trauma that were submitted between October 2017 and May 2022.
But the study also found that while disparities persist, the approval rate for military sexual trauma-related PTSD claims is on the rise, suggesting that the VA is making progress in closing the gap.
During the period covered by the study, 72.4% of sexual trauma PTSD claims were granted, up from 35.6% in 2011, researchers said.
Future studies should include interviews with veterans to examine whether variables such as sexual orientation and gender identity factor into how VA sexual trauma disability claims are adjudicated, the researchers said.