BY RAMONA DU HOUX
June 4th, 2013
The U.S. House today unanimously passed a bill written by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree aimed at making it easier for veterans who survive military sexual assault to get benefits.
“These veterans’ disabilities were not the result of fire from the enemy. They are not a result of injuries incurred during training. They are the result of the Armed Services’ continual failure to systematically address the culture that perpetuates sexual assaults in the military. This situation is unconscionable and unacceptable. We must act,” said Congressman Mike Michaud, ranking Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee as he introduced the bill for a vote in the House of Representatives.
“With this legislation, we hope to ensure that the VA helps these disabled veterans. We have a duty to make these men and women’s lives a little better. They never should have had to deal with these events in their service to our nation, and they should never have to struggle to get care and benefits after they leave.”
The bill, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, is the first legislation addressing the issue of military sexual assault to pass in this Congress.
“The Ruth Moore Act will make a big difference in the lives of tens of thousands of veterans who are survivors of sexual assault in the military and are struggling to get the benefits they are owed. Almost every day we hear from another veteran who is fighting for their benefits and has been repeatedly turned down because they are being held to an unreasonably high standard of proof,” said Pingree after the vote.
Pingree’s bill pushes the VA to make a policy change that would make it easier for veterans to qualify for benefits. Under Pingree’s proposal, veterans would only have to show a medical diagnosis of a mental health condition and a link between an assault and that mental health condition—similar to standards applied to veterans who file claims for combat-related PTSD.
“Veterans who have suffered this horrific crime must be completely confident the Department of VeteransAffairs will provide the care, assistance and support these victims deserve. VA’s approach to military sexual trauma claims requires immediate and thoughtful review, and that is precisely what the Ruth Moore Act aims to ensure. I’m proud to join Rep. Pingree, Ranking Member Michaud and a bipartisan majority of Congress in supporting this bill,” said Republican Congressman Jeff Miller, the Chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
The bill is named for Ruth Moore, a Maine veteran who fought for 23 years for disability benefits after her sexual assault.
“This is an incredibly important day for the thousands and thousands of veterans who have been fighting for the benefits they are owed,” said Moore. “Since this bill was introduced I’ve heard from over 15,000 veterans who have been in the same situation as me. This bill will change their lives.”
Similar legislation sponsored by Senator Jon Tester is scheduled to be taken up by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs next week.