House to tackle sexual assault in the military

Still, the Ruth Moore Act, H.R. 671, is a Democratic bill, and should pass easily in the House next week. The House sponsor, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), argues that Congress needs to ensure that victims of sexual abuse are not denied veterans benefits later on.

ADVERTISEMENT
The legislation is named after Ruth Moore, a Maine veteran who was raped twice after enlisting in the Navy at age 18. Her attacker was never charged, and Moore was discharged after being labeled as suffering from mental illness. Moore than had to fight for 23 years to get her veterans 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," Pingree said earlier this year when she introduced the bill. "Then to deny them the help they need to recover is simply unacceptable."

Under current law, veterans must demonstrate a mental health issue, show that something happened to them in the military, and show a link between the health problem and the event in order to claim disability benefits. But because many sexual assaults are not reported, veterans can have trouble showing that an event happened that caused mental health problems.

Pingree's bill would allow a veteran's testimony that an event happened to them in the military be seen as proof that it occurred.

"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," Pingree says. "It's a classic case of adding insult to injury."

Consideration of the bill comes after a Defense Department report that there were an estimated 26,000 violent sexual crimes in the military in 2012, only 3,300 of which were reported. That's an increase from the estimated 19,000 incidents in 2011.

In May, the Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention was himself charged with sexual violence, and soon after, an Army sergeant with similar responsibilities at Food Hood was charged with sexual assault.

President Obama recently warned that those events threaten the nation's trust in the U.S. Armed Forces.

More in Senate

Senate bill would help victims of sexual assault get VA benefits

Read more »