Politics & Government

Legislation would allow military sexual trauma victims to select providers

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr has introduced legislation that will allow military sexual trauma victims to select private health care providers.

Barr has scheduled a news conference for Monday in Frankfort to discuss the legislation, called the Military Sexual Assault Victim Empowerment Act.

In October, the Herald-Leader reported that a group of military sexual trauma victims had asked Barr, R-Lexington, and State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, to help improve military sexual trauma care at Lexington's Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Barr released a statement saying that he met with many constituents, including one representing victims of military sexual trauma, "who expressed concern that the support and care provided by VA health care system does not always match their specific post-MST needs."

The legislation, also known as the Military SAVE Act, essentially would put military sexual trauma victims in control of their own care. A Department of Defense or VA staffer typically makes health-related determinations on behalf of the victim, but the bill would empower the victims to select the care they think is necessary for treatment.

However, the choice of obtaining health care outside the Department of Veteran Affairs health care system applies only to injuries directly related to military sexual trauma while serving in the military.

Under the legislation, the government would reimburse the private provider.

In October, VA spokeswoman Desti Stimes said that Lexington's VA centers had a number of initiatives in place to help military sexual assault victims but that officials were open to listening to the concerns of victims.

Westrom also has been trying to help the group in Lexington, known as "Karen's Survivors." They were veterans and the clients of Lexington therapist Karen Tufts, who retired from the Lexington VA about three years ago and now treats clients on a private basis.

VA officials did not immediately respond to questions Friday.

Westrom said Barr's legislation is "a wonderful first step."

Westrom said she thought federal officials would look at the problem of military sexual trauma in a different light as a result of the legislation.

Susan Moseley, who said she was a victim of unwanted sexual contact during a three-year stint in the military in the 1990s, said Friday that "the VA has struggled to meet the complex needs of MST survivors," but the Military SAVE Act makes services "available for me and the many other veterans who have suffered too long."

Moseley previously told the Herald-Leader that there was "a lack of a therapeutic environment" for military sexual trauma victims at Lexington's VA centers on Cooper Drive and Leestown Road.

"Military sexual victimization is no longer a secret," Moseley said Friday. "The number of people who have come forward has risen by 50 percent in the last few months, and as awareness of MST builds, many more veterans will realize their life could have been much different if they'd been able to access services."

The Lexington-based victims group has proposed several improvements, including turning a vacant house on the VA's Leestown Road campus into a center that could be a transitional residence for women after they leave inpatient psychiatric treatment at the hospital and before they move into the community.