Shaheen Introduces Legislation to Improve Assistance for Women Veterans

September 28, 2016

**The Violence Against Women Veterans Act would ensure no women veteran attempting to leave an abusive situation is turned away for help due to lack of resources**

 **Shaheen’s legislation would improve coordination between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and State Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Centers**  

(Washington, DC)— U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced new legislation to improve services for women veterans experiencing domestic violence. Studies suggest that women veterans are at particular risk of experience domestic violence and are often unaware of the full-range of potentially lifesaving benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Violence Against Women Veterans Act would direct the VA to better coordinate with, and provide training for, local domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers so that veterans are identified when seeking support and informed of the range of services provided by the Department. The bill would also direct the VA to establish a National Task Force on Domestic Violence in order to better understand the causes of domestic violence among veterans, and provide better support to those at risk of experiencing or committing domestic violence.

“We know that women veterans who experience domestic or sexual violence are also at risk of unnecessarily being turned away for services,” said Senator Shaheen. “It’s clear this is an issue the VA needs to better address and the first step should be to authorize the Department to work closely with experts on the ground. In the long term, we need to have more open and thoughtful conversation with the VA about domestic and sexual violence. We need to better understand the risk factors of domestic violence among veterans and ensure treatment is available.”

Studies suggest that the increased number of women serving in the military has resulted in an increased number of female veterans experiencing domestic violence.[1]  According to an NIH study, veterans are three times more likely to commit domestic violence, and almost half of military women have married a fellow service member compared to 7 percent among males.[2]  In one large women’s clinic in the Midwest, 74 percent of women veteran primary care patients reported experiencing intimate partner violence.  At one U.S. military base, service members charged with domestic violence between 2006 and 2009 increased more than 250 percent.[3]  Finally, an Aspen Institute study found that military related calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline increased three-fold from 2006 to 2011.[4]

As domestic violence shelters across the country experience declining budgets, it is increasingly likely that veterans eligible for VA services may be unnecessarily turned away. At least half of all domestic violence programs across the country have wait lists ranging from 3-100 survivors and from two days to 12 weeks. On one day in 2015, over 12,000 women across the United States were turned away for domestic violence services, 63 percent of those requests were for housing assistance. 

As a result of their military service, women veterans are potentially eligible for a range of benefits that could be helpful 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 female veterans seeking assistance may not be aware of the entirety of their benefits. 

Senator Shaheen has been a leader in the Senate on legislation to establish basic rights and protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Her Sexual Assault Survivors’ Right Act to establish basic rights for survivors of sexual assault was unanimously passed by the Senate and the House and will soon go to the President’s desk following a small change by the Senate. In July, Senator Shaheen introduced legislation, the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2016, to establish housing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and set a nationwide standard that survivors cannot be evicted or otherwise denied access to housing for being victims of those crimes. Earlier this month, Shaheen introduced the Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing Act of 2016 to make it easier for victims to bring forward certain cases of sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Act.

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1 Megan R. Gerber, “Women Veterans and Intimate Partner Violence: Current State of Knowledge and Future Directions,” Journal of Women’s Health. 2014.

2 Id.

3 Stacy Brennerman. “High Risk of Military Domestic Violence on the Home Front,” SFGATE.com. April 7, 2014.

4 The Aspen Institute, “Working Together to Address Domestic Violence Among Veterans: A Call to Action.” June 21, 2013.

5 Id.,. See also, Brennerman.