Washington finally addresses military sexual assault

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen. Jon Tester introduced a bill on Feb. 13 titled the Ruth Moore Act of 2013. This bill will set up better access to help and benefit veterans who are survivors of sexual assault and are dealing with disabilities that developed from such attacks.

Ruth Moore is a Navy veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after what she calls a double betrayal. Her supervisor raped her in the 1980s during her first Navy assignment when she was only 18. Moore then had to fight with the Department of Veterans Affairs for 23 years to get disability benefits and compensation.

The Department of Defense recently stated that “one in three servicewomen report having been sexually assaulted.” The Pentagon has also released numbers that estimate over 19,000 service members are assaulted each year. Sexual assault has been found to be the leading cause of PTSD for women serving in the military. Despite the studies supporting this fact, between 2008 and 2010, 32 percent of PTSD claims from sexual assault are approved by the VA, yet all other claims of PTSD have an approval rate of 54 percent.

Anu Bhagwati, the executive director of Service Women’s Action Network, introduced the bill with Pingree and Tester. During an interview with the Huffington Post Bhagwati stated, “Survivors of military sexual assault and sexual harassment are betrayed twice: first by the military who all too often fails to support the victim, and by the VA, which has for years systematically rejected military sexual trauma disability claims based on this unequal and unfair regulation.”

Moore dealt with numerous rejections when it came to her claims, an issue faced by many inside and outside of the military. Victim blaming is rampant within this country and is an integral component of rape culture. With the threat of being rejected and left without any support, it comes as no surprise that the Pentagon estimates that more than 86 percent of military sexual assault incidents go unreported.

These numbers are incredibly disheartening; people are fighting for this country, to protect us and keep us safe, only to be abandoned when they return. Moore’s story is one of many. Thankfully now her determination has pushed this issue into the limelight and this bill, if passed, should help improve the flawed system.

The Ruth Moore Act of 2013 was presented the day after President Barack Obama vowed during his State of the Union address to continue improving health care for veterans and opportunities for women in the military.

The bill is not only designed to improve the claims process – The Army Times said that decisions will now be made with “every reasonable doubt in favor of the veteran.” If this bill passes the VA will be required to report military sexual trauma claim statistics yearly to Congress. Another implemented change would be that mental health professional’s examination has not been seen as acceptable evidence within a victim’s sexual assault charge. Why such an examination has not been seen as proper evidence in past cases is baffling, and highlights just how backwards the system has been and all the hurdles victims have had to face.

The public needs to get behind this bill and show support for it so that it can be implemented as soon as possible. It is the least we can do for those who sacrifice everything for us.

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