Veterans Affairs Under Fire for Stonewalling Records Demand

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) — Slapping the Department of Veterans Affairs with a federal complaint Wednesday, a pair of nonprofits say the VA’s records handling exposes its inherent bias against victims of military sexual trauma.

Protect Our Defenders and Connecticut Veterans Legal Center requested the records at issue last year as part of investigation in disparities in the grant and denial rates of disability claims filed by male survivors of military sexual trauma.

Represented by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic out of Yale Law School, the groups note that such claims are adjudicated by Veterans Law Judges, but that the biased attitudes of these judges is well documented.

Just last year, the Merit Systems Protection Board found “that multiple VLJs had engaged in sexist, racist, and homophobic stereotyping while on the job, including in an online platform that participants nicknamed the “Forum of Hate,” according to the complaint.

The groups note that many posts on this message board “reveal[ed] alarming homophobic attitudes by VA adjudicators,” such as references to male VA employees as “butt buddies,” and speculation about whether male coworkers engaged in oral sex with one another.

Protect Our Defenders and the other plaintiff note that such attitudes go to the heart of a system where male sexual-assault survivors “are often already disbelieved, feminized, and stereotyped as gay because of the pernicious myth that heterosexual ‘men don’t get raped.’”

Seven months later, the groups are still waiting on the VA to disclose records they requested under the Freedom of Information to determine whether such attitudes have led to the unlawful denial of male survivors’ disability claims.

Though the VA did turn over some records, the groups say critical elements were omitted, including statistics on the disability-benefit requests allowed, remanded or denied by type of disability claimed.

“As long as the VA refuses to share disaggregated MST-specific data, plaintiffs are unable to confirm whether this disparity is related to VLJs’ bias against male survivors of MST,” the complaint states, using an abbreviation for military sexual assault.

Representatives for the VA declined to comment in an email, citing a policy with regard to pending litigation.

The law students say the public “has a strong interest in information that reveals the effectiveness of efforts to support veterans who have experienced MST in an equitable manner, given the enormity of the sexual assault epidemic in the U.S. military, and its emotional and financial ramifications on veterans, particularly those veterans whose MST-related claim are denied.”

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