|VIDEO: Pingree says defense bill should send strong message about military sexual assault|
|Thursday, May 17, 2012|
Introduces amendment that calls on VA and Pentagon to reform policy
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act today that calls on the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to reform policy around sexual assault in the military.
"Congress should pass this amendment and send a strong signal to the VA and to the Pentagon that we recognize what a serious problem sexual assault in the military is," Pingree said. "But mostly it sends a message to the victims that we recognize what they have gone through and we won't stand for it."
Pingree has been pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs torelax the standards of proof for victims of sexual assault who are seeking benefits, and has introduced a bill with bipartisan support to force the VA to make those changes.
Pingree says VA officials claim to have already eased standards of proof for victims, but she's heard from many veterans who are having a very different experience.
"Even when victims of sexual assault have ample evidence that they are suffering from PTSD because of the attack, the VA is often demanding unreasonable levels of proof before granting benefits. They are asking for court martial convictions or documentation that just doesn't exist," Pingree said. "We know that many victims don't report the attacks for fear of retribution and even when they do the perpetrators often don't get prosecuted. But that doesn't mean those victims don't still deserve benefits."
Pingree, a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the amendment to the defense authorization bill today. The amendment creates a Congressional resolution telling the VA to allow alternative forms of evidence for sexualassault victims. Although not a binding measure, the amendment will put continued pressure on the VA to make it easier for victims to get benefits.
"I met with Secretary Panetta recently and I know he understands the problem and I've met with VA officials and I know they do, too," Pingree said. "But we can't just call that good enough and we really have to keep up the pressure."
Pingree is also a cosponsor of an amendment to today's defense bill that provides oversight of the way in which the Pentagon deals with the problem of military sexual assault.
A vote on the amendment and the National Defense Authorization Act is expected later today.