While little mention of it has occurred locally, it is important for some veterans to know, as of 1 December 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), under the authority from the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (aka VACAA or Public Law 113-146; and the same authority which introduced Veterans Choice Cards) has expanded eligibility for military veterans, male or female, in need of mental health care due to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during their military service, now commonly referred to as military sexual trauma (MST). Dr. Adelman, the new Director of the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center Network, assures us the program is fully operating in his network.
The change in policy primarily affects Reservists and National Guard members participating in weekend drills, for VACAA gave the VA the authority to offer (to those among them who qualify as veterans) the appropriate care and services needed to treat conditions resulting from MST which occurred during a period of inactive duty training. In other words, while one must be classified as a veteran (according to applicable VA standards in regards to Title 10 active duty service), one does not need to have incurred the trauma as a result of active duty service. As of this writing, however, the VA and Department of Defense are still debating the feasibility of and parameters for extending this VA service to eligible servicemembers serving on active duty, but this situation does not apply to most of the Lehigh Valley’s residential military population.
To start the process of receiving assistance, one need only reach out to his/her VA Patient-Centric Healthcare Team or ask for a social worker or nurse at the closest VA healthcare facility (hospital or clinic) if not enrolled at the time. Once under treatment, the VA will work closely with the individual to ensure a full continuum of health care services are provided to enable recovery, both physically and mentally. To ensure this, every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator to contact. [Editor’s Note: The names of MST Coordinators are not provided to the public or general patient population.]
This program has features, some unusual, to encourage its use:
1) Currently, all VA health care for mental and physical health conditions related to MST is provided free of charge — no copayments are involved.
2) A military veteran seeking help need not be enrolled in VA’s health care system to qualify for MST-related treatment, as this program is independent of VA’s general treatment authority. Eligibility for MST-related benefits under 38 USC 1720D of the Act is not subject to any enrollment according a recent VA Fact Sheet. [However, enrollment is ultimately advisable.]
3) It is not required that the individual have any awarded VA service-connected disability or be seeking disability compensation to be eligible for MST-related counseling and care.
3) Eligible servicemembers seeking VA assistance do not need to have reported such incidents to Department of Defense entities.
4) No documentation or records to support the assertion of having experienced such trauma are required. The responsible VA mental health provider will make a strictly clinical determination on whether or not the veteran’s condition is MST-related.
As of 2 January 2015