**Bipartisan bill would help ensure no veteran attempting to leave an abusive situation is turned away for assistance due to a lack of resources**
**Legislation would improve coordination between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and State Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Centers**
U.S. SENATE— U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reintroduced legislation today to improve services for veterans experiencing domestic or sexual violence. The Senators’ bill – the Supporting Veteran Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act – would connect veterans exposed to domestic or sexual violence with resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve coordination between the VA and local domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers. Connecting survivors of domestic or sexual violence with VA resources not only serves veterans, but also helps preserve limited crisis center and shelter resources. Shaheen first introduced this legislation in the 114th Congress.
According to the VA, approximately one third of women veterans experience intimate partner violence – a type of domestic violence – at some point in their lifetime. Earlier this year, the Department of Defense released its annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, which showed a startling 50 percent increase in assaults against servicewomen since their last report in 2016. And according to a New York Times report, Pentagon figures confirm that approximately 10,000 servicemen are sexually assaulted in the military every year.
As a result of their military service, veterans are potentially eligible for a range of benefits that could be helpful in removing a family from an abusive situation including housing assistance, disability payments, medical care including for certain dependents, mental health services and peer support. However, often, veterans seeking assistance may not be aware of the entirety of their benefits.
“Domestic and sexual violence has no place in our society or in our military. I fought to have several provisions from my bill to combat military sexual assault incorporated into the annual defense bill, but we must take a holistic view of how we solve this issue,” said McSally. “Congress must do more to support our servicemen and women as they overcome trauma and seek support and safety outside of their homes. Our legislation will ensure the needs of servicemembers and veterans are met with ample resources and assistance.”
“Domestic and sexual violence is a persistent problem in our society, and it’s particularly pervasive among our military and veteran populations. It threatens the health, safety and well-being of women and their families, and it demands action from Congress. Help should never be out of reach for survivors when they need it,” said Shaheen. “This bipartisan bill would improve coordination between the VA and help ensure our rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters have the resources they need to provide a safe haven to all those seeking assistance. Improving the efficiency of federal agencies to respond to the needs of survivors and bolstering support for our local and state partners who provide this help will continue to be my top priorities in Congress.”
Specifically, the Supporting Veteran Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act would:
- Direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a program of coordination with local domestic, intimate partner and sexual violence service providers;
- Establish local domestic, intimate partner and sexual violence outreach coordinators at VA hospitals to serve as liaisons to communities;
- Codify the current, informal VA Task Force on Domestic Violence, and direct it to create a comprehensive national program to address intimate partner violence prevention, response and treatment;
- Direct the task force to study and report on the feasibility of specific proposals to improve VA services for victims, including an expedited review of temporary housing and other assistance requests, provide additional direct services (particularly in rural areas), and support counseling and peer network services for domestic violence;
- Direct the VA to complete a national baseline study on the prevalence and causes of domestic violence among veterans;
- And require the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans to conduct an assessment of the effects of intimate partner violence on women veterans.
On May 23, McSally successfully had an overwhelming number of her legislative priorities to combat sexual assault in the military incorporated in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20).
On May 15, McSally introduced the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, landmark legislation to combat military sexual assault. The legislation focuses on improvements to the investigation and judicial process, as well as victim support once an assault has been reported.
On May 9, McSally met with Air Force leadership at Andrew Air Force Base to dig into the improvements that McSally is proposing.
On May 7, McSally convened a meeting of the nation’s top military leaders to discuss the recommendations and path forward on combating sexual assault. This meeting followed the delivery of the task force report that was a direct result of McSally’s request to the Acting Secretary of Defense.
On April 26, McSally visited Ft. Huachuca and Davis-Monthan to meet with soldiers and airmen to hear firsthand their ideas on ending sexual assault in the military.
On March 18, McSally requested the immediate formation of a Department of Defense task force to combat sexual assault. Just a day later, Shanahan committed to standing up the task force at McSally’s request.
Bill text of the Supporting Veteran Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act can be found here.