House votes to remove hurdle to benefits for sexually abused veterans

The legislation is named after a veteran who was raped twice and then had to fight for more than two decades to claim disability benefits. Her specific problem was that current law requires proof that an event causing mental distress happened in the military, but many military rapes go unreported.

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"For 23 years, she fought for the benefits she was owed," said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), the House sponsor of the bill. "Her records were tampered with, she was diagnosed with mental illness, and her life fell apart.

"After decades of fighting, Ruth was finally given the benefits we owed her, and slowly she has put her life back together."

Pingree's bill changes the law to allow for a statement from a veteran to serve as proof than an event happened. Other members said the bill is needed to force the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to change their policy regarding disability benefits for these veterans.

"This legislation makes clear that we expect the VA to update its regulation in regards to military sexual trauma, which we believe are outdated and do not reflect the need of those who are living through this awful experience," said Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine.).

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), also spoke in favor of the bill as a way to help people diagnosed with conditions due to military sexual trauma (MST).

"Survivors of MST must not be subjected to outdated and antiquated regulations of the Department," he said.

House passage sends the bill to the Senate for consideration, where it stands a good chance of being quickly approved. Members of the House and Senate have called for several steps to curb sexual violence in the military in the wake of increased incidents of sexual assaults, as well as finding ways to help the victims.