V.A. Plans Review of Billing for Care in Sexual Assaults

By JAMES DAO
 
Published: May 6, 2009

 
The Department of Veterans Affairs will review the billing practices of veterans health centers around the country amid concerns that some are improperly charging for care relating to sexual assault in the military, officials said Wednesday.
 
The department is required to provide free care, including counseling and prescription drugs, to veterans who were sexually harassed or assaulted while in military service. Sexual assault includes rape and attempted rape.
 
But the Office of Inspector General at the department found this year that an outpatient clinic in Austin, Tex., had repeatedly charged veterans, mostly women, for those services. Based on concerns that the practice may be more widespread, the office decided to expand its review to a sampling of veterans health care centers and clinics nationwide.
 
An official in the office declined to comment, saying it does not discuss pending reviews. The official said the review would be made public when it was completed, possibly by October.
 
In a statement, the Department of Veterans Affairs said the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, which oversees the Austin clinic, was reimbursing patients who had been improperly billed. “Patients seen for military sexual trauma should not be billed for payment,” the statement said. “We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.”
 
Studies have found that male and female members of the military have reported high rates of sexual harassment and assault while in the service, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. A 2003 report by the department estimated that nearly a quarter of women in the National Guard or Reserve reported having been sexually assaulted.
 
Over half of the assaults were at a military base or worksite during duty hours, and in most cases, military personnel were the offenders, the report said.
 
The inspector general’s review was prompted by complaints from a woman in Texas who said the clinic in Austin had for years charged her for care relating to military sexual trauma, the department’s term for physical and psychological problems caused by sexual harassment or assault. Her complaints reached Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who requested the review.
 
“Disabilities resulting from military sexual trauma, physical or invisible, must be treated like other service-connected wounds: V.A. has an obligation to provide and pay for the care,” Mr. Akaka said in a statement.
 
(To read original article, visit this New York Times link)

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