(WASHINGTON) — Several victims of sexual assault in the military told a House committee on Friday that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is not providing adequate care to victims of sexual assault in the military.
Tara Johnson, who endured sexual assault in the military on numerous occasions, sought treatment from the VA but often was not asked if she had suffered military sexual trauma (MST) when being diagnosed. At one point, she shared her experiences with a male provider at the VA, who then questioned whether she had in fact been raped.
“The provider looked at me, widened his eyes, sat back in his chair and said ‘Well do you really think you were raped?’” Johnson explained to a subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “I could not bring myself to return to the VA.”
“The VA needs to become a safe environment where MST is acknowledged,” Johnson said. “If I had only been asked about my experiences with MST, I would have provided full disclosure. I like many was never asked.”
Brian Lewis, a male victim of sexual assault in the military, said the VA system often addresses sexual assault as a female-only issue and does not provide the type of support male victims need to heal.
“Male survivors are the equals of female survivors and need to be treated as such by the Veterans Health Administration,” Lewis said.
Along with calling for the VA to reform its programs dealing with sexual assault, the victims advocated for taking jurisdiction over military sexual assaults out of the chain of command.
“When you are raped, it takes a piece of your soul. Being raped by a fellow service member is a double betrayal, but not being backed up by your commanders is the highest betrayal of all,” Victoria Sanders, who was sexually assaulted in the military, said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Pamela Brown, Jake Tapper and Dan Merica, CNN
Eli Watkins, CNN
Robert Patten, EastIdahoNews.com
Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com