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Members of US House demand Veterans Affairs do more in handling military sexual trauma

Lawmakers expressed their dissatisfaction with the Veterans Affairs Department's record on handling military sexual response claims.

WASHINGTON — There's a call for change coming from Capitol Hill.

"One in three military servicewomen and one in 50 military servicemen are sexually assaulted while they're in service," said Katie Anita Purswell of the American Legion. "Fifty-seven percent of those claims that were filed are improperly denied. We are overdue for an intervention."

Many lawmakers agree with the assessment. 

On Wednesday, members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee heard powerful testimony about the response of the Department of Veterans Affairs as it pertains to sexual trauma in the military.

Witnesses said more needs to be done to restore victims' faith in the department's systems.

"While we are hopeful, the realist in me says: prove it," said Shane Liermann of Disabled American Veterans. "It's been 20-something-odd years. I need to see it done. And our veterans need to see a better process now."

The VA insists it is getting better at processing disability claims related to military sexual trauma, but its own Inspector General's Office estimated that VA processors have mishandled thousands of veterans' claims, including failing to give specially trained staff enough time to fully review the cases.

Lawmakers called the lack of reforms unacceptable.

"It's essential that the Department of Veterans Affairs does everything it can to support these men and women in this process," said Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Virginia).

Troy Nehls (R-Texas) added, "If MST survivors have a negative experience, they may never, ever walk through the VA doors again."

The Defense Department laid out a timeline that could see some military sexual assault reforms take up to nine years to be implemented.

Lawmakers said that is not good enough, and they want action within six months.