FACT SHEET: HR 1607, The Ruth Moore Act of 2015
Introduced by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) March 25, 2015.
Visit the Military Sexual Trauma issue page for policy updates.
What the bill does
Veterans who are partially or fully disabled from an injury suffered while serving in the military are entitled to disability benefits—access to health care for the injury and possibly a monthly payment that varies based on several factors.
Currently, VA policy requires a veteran applying for disability benefits to demonstrate three things:
1) Diagnosis of a medical or mental health issue.
2) Proof that an event (a "stressor") happened to them while they serving in the military.
3) A link between the stressor and the medical/mental health issue, provided by a VA examiner.
Since the vast majority of sexual assaults in the military go unreported, and even those that are reported are often not prosecuted, many survivors of military sexual trauma have found it hard to prove that an assault—the stressor—occurred.
The Ruth Moore Act allows a statement from the survivor ("lay testimony") to be considered sufficient proof that the assault occurred.
Current VA policy allows so-called "secondary markers" to be considered as evidence of an assault, although the VA has been very inconsistent in applying that policy. Secondary markers can include evidence from rape kits, statements from family members citing a change in behavior since military service and drug and alcohol abuse.
In 2010 VA policy for combat veterans applying for disability payments was changed in a similar fashion, allowing lay testimony as evidence that a trauma like exposure to a roadside bomb or mortar attack had occurred.
About Ruth Moore
Ruth Moore joined the Navy in the mid 1980s when she was 18 years old. Moore says she came from a poor family and "college was not an option."
While stationed in the Azores, Moore was sexually assaulted by her immediate supervisor. When she reported the attack, she says the same officer raped her again as retaliation. No charges were ever brought and Moore was discharged and labeled as having a mental illness.
Moore fought for 23 years for disability benefits. During that time she suffered from a sexually transmitted disease she caught from her attacker, struggled with depression and eventually ended up living in her van. In 2009 a VA investigator discovered her medical records had been tampered with and eventually helped her win a 70% disability rating and corresponding benefit.
Moore contacted Congresswoman Pingree in the summer of 2010, and agreed then to talk to a TV reporter, but only if her identity was concealed. (Video of that interview is here) Since then, she has gained the confidence to speak publicly about her story, and has testified before a House VA subcommittee.
Facts about military sexual trauma (MST)
The nonpartisan Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) has been one of the most vocal organizations to bring attention to the issue of MST and is an excellent resource (http://servicewomen.org/).
The Department of Defense estimates that in 2010 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military, but only 13.5% of those assaults were reported.
In 2011 only 8% of reported cases went to trial and only 191 attackers were convicted.
Although MST is the leading cause of PTSD among female veterans, the Veterans Administration rejected 2 out of 3 MST claims in 2008-2010.