Bill pushes Department of Veterans to make it easier for survivors of military sexual assault to receive disability benefits
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree applauded tonight’s unanimous House passage of H.R. 1607—the Ruth Moore Act of 2015—a bill she introduced earlier this year to make it easier for veterans who were sexually assaulted during their service to receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Since starting to work on this issue, not a day goes by that I don’t hear from another veteran who has struggled to get the benefits they need and deserve. These veterans face multiple injustices—the first in the sexual assaults they suffered during their service and the second in the many roadblocks they face in receiving benefits,” said Pingree. “Tonight’s vote is a crucial step in holding the VA accountable and pushing them to make needed changes to help these veterans.”
Pingree first introduced the Ruth Moore Act in 2013. The bill was passed in the House, but was not voted on in theSenate.
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.
“Ruth’s story is horrific, and there are many more out there just like hers. Despite the Department of Defense stepping up prevention efforts, 19,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military last year. Only a quarter of cases were reported and a recent survey found that over 60 percent of those who did report sexual assault or harassment faced retaliation,” said Pingree. “The VA needs to acknowledge this reality by lowering the evidentiary roadblocks MST survivors face in applying for benefits. Passage of this bill pushes them in that direction and I will continue fighting until the agency makes those changes.”
As amended by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, the legislation the House passed tonight would require the VA to report annually on a number of aspects concerning MST claims, including how many it received, how many were denied, the most common reasons for denial, and how long they took to process. It also includes a Sense of Congress that the “Secretary of Veterans Affairs should update and improve the regulations of the Department of Veterans Affairs with respect to military sexual trauma.”