Tells committee she is not going to give up fight for justice for veterans
A Congressional committee held a public hearing this morning on a bill written by Representative Chellie Pingree that will make it easier forsurvivors of military sexual assault to get the benefits they deserve. Pingree introduced the Ruth Moore Act in 2013 when it passed the U.S. House, but died in the Senate. This year Pingree has reintroduced the legislation with Montana Senator Jon Tester.
The legislation Pingree introduced makes it easier for veterans to qualify for benefits, since they only have to show a medical diagnosis of amental health condition and a link between an assault and that mental health condition. Five years ago, the Veterans Administration had reduced the standard of proof for combat veterans who suffer from PTSD. Pingree said that same standard should be offered to victims of military sexual assault.
"The VA finally acknowledged that far too many veterans who have deployed into harm’s way suffered the emotional consequences of their service but could not, through no fault of their own, locate military documentation that verified the traumatic events that triggered their PTSD. The VA now accepts their statement of traumatic events, along with a PTSD diagnosis and a medical link, as enough to receive disability benefits. The VA’s less favorable treatment of veterans who suffered sexual assault than those who suffered other forms of combat trauma is arbitrary. The VA can articulate no rationale for why a veteran’s lay testimony may be adequate to establish combat trauma, but not trauma from a sexual assault," Pingree told the House Veterans Affairs Committee this morning.
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.
"Thousands of veterans—survivors of sexual assault--have fought for years to get the benefits that are owed them. But they didn't give up. So we are not going to give up in our fight to reform this process to make sure these brave women and men get the justice they deserve," Pingree said in her testimony.
The bill has been endorsed by numerous veterans service organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The National Organization of Veterans' Advocates (NOVA) said the bill is critical for veterans.
“NOVA cannot emphasize enough how important this bill is to victims of sexual assaults which occurred while serving on active duty. If Congress does nothing else this year for veterans, it must pass this bill. This bill will restore dignity to victims of assault while serving this country.Under the current law, a victim of assault in service who has been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder by a mental health professional is also required to provide evidence that the assault actually occurred. As a result, the veracity of these victims is put at issue by VA. This bill correctly recognizes that the lay testimony alone of these victims should be enough to establish the occurrence of the reported military sexual trauma unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, provided that the reported military sexual trauma is consistent with the circumstances, conditions, orhardships of the veteran’s service."