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Progress in caring for survivors of military sexual assault

Military sexual trauma is too often exacerbated by poor care in the aftermath. While the Defense Department struggles to improve prevention and prosecution, the VA is has made strides to ensure veterans receive respect and treatment. But more work needs to be done.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York stands next to Sen. Rand Paul as Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to reporters in Washington July 16 about a bill on military sexual assaults. Op-ed contributor Kayla Williams says the Veterans Administration 'is certainly not perfect' in treating survivors of military sexual trauma. 'Though more work remains to be done, some of which is addressed in pending legislation, tremendous strides have been made in the past few years.'

Charles Dharapak/AP

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This week, an unusual thing happened on Capitol Hill. Two tea party favorites in the Senate – Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky and Ted Cruz (R) of Texas – threw their support behind Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to reform how the military handles sexual assault cases. We’ve heard a lot in recent months about sexual harassment and assault in the United States military. But it begs the question: What about the aftermath?

The data shows that military sexual trauma is more strongly correlated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress than either combat trauma or civilian sexual assault. Homeless veterans are disproportionately likely to have experienced military sexual trauma, or MST.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides mental and physical health care to veterans, as well as compensation for those with service-connected disabilities, which many of us associate only with war wounds. With all the controversy, many are wondering: How is VA doing in providing care and compensation to survivors of military sexual assault? After a less-than-stellar history, the VA has re-tooled and is now doing better job at identifying, compensating, and tailoring care for these veterans.

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