Women Veterans' Health Care

VA Efforts to Respond to the Challenge of Providing Sexual Trauma Counseling Gao ID: T-HEHS-98-138 April 23, 1998

In the early 1990s, women veterans of the U.S. military made repeated allegations that they had been sexually assaulted while on active duty. Several of these women suffer from sexual trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and experience emotional and physical symptoms, such as increased stress, impaired concentration, and nightmares. This testimony discusses (1) the extent to which sexual trauma counseling services are available in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), (2) the extent to which women veterans use these services, and (3) what VA is doing to assess the effectiveness of its sexual trauma counseling programs.

GAO noted that: (1) VA, which began offering sexual trauma counseling services in 1993, offers these services at all of its 172 hospitals and 62 of its 206 Vet Centers; (2) four VA hospitals offer specialized sexual trauma counseling programs through Women Veterans Stress Disorder Treatment Teams; (3) these counseling programs provide care to women veterans who have been more severely affected by their traumatic experiences; (4) VA has also conducted a number of outreach efforts to increase staff awareness and inform women veterans about available sexual trauma counseling services; (5) these efforts have included segments on a national television program and letters to women veterans; (6) finally, to facilitate accessibility to sexual trauma counseling, VA has provided a toll-free number for women veterans to obtain information about available counseling services and has designated women veteran coordinators at medical facilities and Veterans Benefits Administration offices to assist women veterans in obtaining these services; (7) as a result of VA's efforts, women veterans are increasingly using VA's sexual trauma counseling services; (8) between fiscal year 1993 and fiscal year 1997, the number of women veterans receiving sexual trauma counseling has almost quadrupled, from about 2,350 to about 9,000; and (9) although not yet done, VA plans to systematically evaluate the effectiveness of the sexual trauma counseling programs provided by the four Women Veterans Stress Disorder Treatment Teams and its Vet Centers.

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