New legislation has been introduced that could bring sweeping changes to how sexual assault is handled in the military. The growing problem has recently come into the spotlight with the Academy Award-nominated documentary “The Invisible War.”
Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree and Montana Sen. Jon Tester recently introduced the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, a landmark bill that requires the Veterans Administration to fix its disability claims system for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors.
Under the current regulations, veterans whose mental health issues are connected to sexual violence face a far greater burden of proof than other VA claimants diagnosed with the same mental illnesses. Approval rates for MST claims have historically been much lower than for similar VA disability claims.
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 fought the VA for over 20 years before she was finally awarded veteran benefits.
“It’s outrageous that men and women who sign up to defend our country end up being victims of sexual assault in the first place. Then to deny them the help they need to recover is simply unacceptable,” Pingree said. “It’s very difficult to prove sexual assault within the current system, which makes it just as difficult for veterans who have been victims to qualify for the benefits they deserve. It’s a classic case of adding insult to injury.”
Tester added that the legislation is helping take care of a long-standing problem that has gone silent for too long.
“We have a responsibility to meet the needs of all victims of service-related trauma,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. “This legislation is simply a matter of fairness to make sure that survivors of military sexual assault get the support they deserve without having to jump through additional hoops.”
According to the Pentagon, 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, but only about 13 percent of victims reported the attacks. In 2011, less than 8 percent of reported cases went to trial and less than 200 attackers were eventually convicted.
Black women in the military are more likely to experience more severe forms of harassment compared to their white women counterparts, including unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.