Serv. Women's Action Network v. Sec'y of Veterans Affairs, No. 14-7115 (Fed. Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
In 2012, one in five female veterans and one in 100 male veterans reported that they experienced sexual abuse in the military, and an estimated 26,000 service members “experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact.” The trauma stemming from sexual abuse in the military (military sexual trauma (MST)) can result in severe chronic medical conditions, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety. Generally, veterans with service-connected disabilities are entitled to disability benefits, 38 U.S.C. 1110, 1131. In response to what they viewed as the VA’s inadequate response to MST-based disability claims, veterans’ groups submitted a petition for rulemaking which requested that the VA promulgate a new regulation regarding the adjudication of certain MST-based disability claims. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs denied the petition. The Federal Circuit upheld the denial, noting its limited and deferential review and stating that the Secretary adequately explained its reasons for denying the petition. The court rejected a claim that in denying the petition, the Secretary violated the equal protection clause by intentionally discriminating against women without providing an exceedingly persuasive justification or discriminating against survivors of MST-based PTSD without providing a legitimate reason.