Pingree is joined by 23 other Members of Congress to support lawsuit against VA
Suit demands VA treat survivors of sexual assault and victims of combat-related PTSD equally
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree was joined by 23 other members of the House of Representatives yesterday in filing a friend of the court brief in a lawsuit aimed at forcing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to treatsurvivors of military sexual trauma (MST) the same way they treat veterans suffering from combat-related PTSD.
"The VA has done the right thing by making it easier for combat veterans to get benefits for their PTSD but sadly they just won't treat MST survivors equally," Pingree said. "We've asked them again and again to make the same reforms with these survivors but they just haven't done it. It's too bad that this had to end up in court but if that's what it takes to get the VA to reform their practices, I am certainly going to support that lawsuit."
Pingree led a group of 24 House members in filing an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, which was brought by the Service Women's Action Network and the Vietnam Veterans of America against the VA and filed in federal court in Washington this summer.
Pingree, who has been a vocal advocate for the rights of MST survivors, said the VA uses a dual standard in handling claims from veterans who suffer from PTSD related to combat and those whose PTSD is related to sexual assault.
In order to file for benefits for a disability, a veteran has to show three things—medical diagnosis of the disability, a link between the disability and an event that happened while they were serving and evidence that the event actually occurred. Recognizing that it is sometimes hard for veterans in combat to collect evidence of a traumatic event that leads to PTSD, the VA has allowed those veterans to submit their own testimony as evidence. Despite repeated requests, the VA has not extended a similar policy to survivors ofsexual assault.
"We know from the Pentagon that the vast majority of sexual assaults in the military go unreported. And I know from the dozens of veterans who have contacted me that even when they do report an assault it was oftenswept under the rug," Pingree said. "Asking a veteran to provide additional proof that the assault occurred in that situation is just unrealistic."