VIDEO: Chairwoman Elaine Luria Leads Hearing to Empower Veteran Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma

June 21, 2019
Press Release
20-Year Navy Veteran Pushes VA to Clarify Cyberbullying Policy, Recognizes Expert Witness from William & Mary

WASHINGTON – House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) Chairwoman Elaine Luria (VA-02) on Thursday led a legislative and oversight hearing to help ensure access to disability benefits for veteran survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).

The Subcommittee discussed H.R. 1092, the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2019, a bill that would expand health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for MST.

At the hearing, Congresswoman Luria highlighted the VA’s resistance to expressly allow the inclusion of online records as evidence of MST.

In questioning Mr. Willie Clark, Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration, Chairwoman Luria highlighted VA’s stated opposition to Section 3 of H.R. 1092, which would expand coverage by the VA of counseling and treatment for sexual trauma to include technological abuse and cyberbullying on digital platforms, such as social media.

This opposition exists despite Mr. Clark’s written testimony to the Subcommittee stating that “many clinicians” would consider digital abuse “as falling within the scope of the existing definition of MST.” Chairwoman Luria asked Mr. Clark to explain.

In response, Mr. Clark deferred to Dr. Margaret Bell, National Deputy Director for Military Sexual Trauma at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Dr. Bell said she thought that, at a practical level, VHA is already operating in a way that would allow survivors to use social media evidence against abusers.

“You say you ‘think,’” Chairwoman Luria said. “Is it perfectly clear? Is it in writing? Why should we leave the ambiguity?”

“I think it would be perfectly fine to put it in writing,” Dr. Bell said.

“I think that digital media, social media records ... are certainly evidence that we should allow people to present if that’s the means by which the abuse occurred,” Chairwoman Luria said.

Video of the exchange can be seen here. 

Chairwoman Luria supports passage of H.R. 1092.

Also, during the hearing, Chairwoman Luria recognized Ms. Elizabeth Tarloski, Esq., a staff attorney and adjunct professor at the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary Law School, for providing expert testimony during the hearing.

Chairwoman Luria said Ms. Tarloski brought value to the discussion by speaking of her professional experiences, including her work helping veterans file disability claims.

Ms. Tarloski made clear her opinion that the standard for proving an MST-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claim is too difficult for many veterans. Congresswoman Luria appreciates the high level of expertise that Ms. Tarloski provided in examining MST and looks forward to partnering in the future.

Congresswoman Luria’s full opening statement can be viewed here.

Congresswoman Elaine Luria represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where she is the Vice Chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where she serves as Chair of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.