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Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senator Jon Tester re-introduce bill to help survivors of military sexual assault

Ruth Moore Act passed House in 2013; Congressman Bruce Poliquin joins the fight as lead House Republican supporter of legislation

Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Montana Senator Jon Tester re-introduced the Ruth Moore Act today, a bill that will make it easier forsurvivors of military sexual assault to get the benefits they deserve.  Congressman Bruce Poliquin joined the effort as the lead Republican cosponsor in the House.

"The sexual assault of someone who has volunteered to serve and defend this country is a crime and shouldn't be tolerated," Pingree said.  "But when it happens we have to do everything we can to make sure the survivor gets the benefits they deserve.  To do that we need to change the way these claims are treated at the VA."

“Congress and the Pentagon must continue working together to address the prevalence of sexual violence in our armed services,” Tester said.  “And as we seek to bring justice to survivors of military sexual trauma, we must also make sure they are treated fairly in accessing the benefits they need.  That’s what this bill does.”

Pingree and Tester first introduced the bill in 2013.  It passed the House unanimously in 2013 but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.  Pingree vowed to keep pushing for the changes that will benefit the victims of sexual assault.

"Ruth Moore fought for 23 years to get the benefits she deserved. The least we can do is to keep up the fight to change the policesthat make it so hard for survivors of sexual assault to get their benefits," Pingree said.

Maine Congressman Bruce Poliquin joined the efforts to reform policy for survivors of military sexual assault as the lead Republican cosponsor in the House. 

"It’s an honor to serve on behalf of constituents like Ruth Moore who never give up their fight in the pursuit of justice," said Poliquin. "Far too often, cases of sexual assault in the military go unreported or are not prosecuted and the victim is left without VA benefits to deal with the physical and mental aftermath of the attack.  This bill expands upon existing law to ensure that veterans who incur a mental health condition from military sexual trauma during active duty receive the benefits they were promised and deserve."

The bill is named after Ruth Moore, a veteran from Maine who was raped twice after enlisting in the Navy at age 18.  Moore reported the attacks, but the attacker was never charged or disciplined.  Moore was labeled as suffering from mental illness and discharged from the Navy.  She then fought for over twenty years before she was finally awarded the veterans benefits she deserved.  Last year, the VA acknowledged making a "clear and unmistakable error" in denying her veterans benefits in 1993 and agreed to pay her back benefits owed to her.

"We have always known that the fight for justice for survivors of military sexual trauma wasn't one we were going to win overnight.  As a nation, we've made tremendous progress connecting with our veterans, but we've still got many obstacles ahead of us as we reteach ideology and work through old misperceptions and victim blaming attitudes about military sexual assault.  We're not giving up until every victim of sexual assault in the military gets the acknowledgement and recognition of their post assault disabilities, fair treatment in the claims process, and the benefits they deserve as veterans who served their country with honor," Moore said. 

The legislation Pingree and Tester introduced today makes it easier for veterans to qualify for benefits, since they only have to show amedical diagnosis of a mental health condition and a link between an assault and that mental health condition.  Previously, the Veterans Administration had reduced the standard of proof for combat veterans who suffer from PTSD.  Pingree and Tester say that same standard should be offered to victims of military sexual assault.

The Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) came out in support of Pingree and Tester's bill.

“We continue to support and push for this bill requiring the VA to fix its unfair and broken disability claims system for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors,” said Erica Hunt, SWAN interim executive director. “VA's regulations establish an unfair, unjust and cruel claims system for veterans who have suffered from the effects of military sexual violence. Up until now VA has refused to make this common sense change, and the time has come for a fair regulation to be officially and fully legislated.”

According to the Pentagon, 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, but only about 13% of victims reported the attacks.  In 2011, less than 8% of reported cases went to trial and less than 200 attackers were eventually convicted.

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