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‘12 Alumna Offers Expert Testimony on Sexual Trauma in the Military before U.S. House Subcommittee

Elizabeth Tarloski, '12

July 02, 2019

Elizabeth Tarloski, ‘12, testified in favor of a bill that would make it easier for survivors of sexual trauma in the military to access disability benefits.

Tarloski offered expert testimony at a June 20 hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, which is considering the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2019.

Under current law, veterans making disability claims based on sexual assault or harassment they experienced in the military must provide health or personnel records documenting their trauma—a tougher standard than what is required of veterans making claims based on post-traumatic stress disorder.

The proposed law would put veterans who have experienced military sexual assault on equal footing with peers who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, Tarloski said. The Veterans Administration has acknowledged that records of assaults or harassment currently required in the claims process are often unavailable, Tarloski noted. The proposed law would recognize veterans’ statements to establish the occurrence of a stressor, as it does in cases related to combat or fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, she added.

Tarloski is a part-time staff attorney and adjunct professor at the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William and Mary Law School, which assists veterans in filing and appealing disability claims. Previously, she was an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow in Widener University’s Veterans Law Clinic. She received a Master of Science, Gender, Development and Globalization from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Officials from the Veterans Administration have opposed the proposed law, contending that it would require approval of claims based on a veteran’s word alone without any corroborating evidence.

In its coverage of the proposed legislation and hearing, Military Times quoted Tarloski, who said veterans are often leery of disclosing sexual trauma.

“I don’t think this is an experience people want to share readily, let alone make up,” she said. “I am concerned that differing standards kind of puts our PTSD survivors who are veterans in two different categories. We should believe those who are in combat who can’t document what happened, but we need additional evidence from those who suffer from (military sexual trauma), and to me that’s troubling.”

Now a staff attorney at Philadelphia VIP, Tarloski will teach Justice Lawyering as a member of the Kline School of Law adjunct faculty, starting in the fall.