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U.S. House Endorses Pingree-Authored Military Sexual Assault Bill
06/04/2013   Reported By: Keith Shortall

The U.S. House has passed a bill aimed at stopping sexual assaults in the military and making it easier for victims to get services and benefits. The so-called Ruth Moore Act, named for a woman from Maine, was written by 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who garnered bipartisan support for the measure from House colleagues. Keith Shortall reports.

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Originally Aired: 6/4/2013 5:30 PM

Before Tuesday's vote, several speakers from both parties rose in support of the measure. Maine 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud, a Democrat who has focused much of his career in Washington on veterans' issues, says the VA has not met the mark on the issue of sexual assaults, and should take a page from its own playbook to correct the problem.

"Mr. Speaker, VA did the right thing by our Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange by updating their regulations," Michaud told colleagues. "We expect VA to also do the right thing by veterans who have been suffering from military sexual trauma."

Since the bill was introduced earlier this year, several high-profile cases have emerged, including a new Pentagon report showing that 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military, an increase of 35 percent SINCE?. Pingree says only about 1 in 10 of those assaults were reported, and even fewer were prosecuted.

"In fact, the Pengaton says that every week, every single week, 400 sexual assaults go unreported," Pingree said. "But even though we've heard much more about this problem lately, in no way is it a new problem."

Pingree says she's heard from men and women of all ages, from all branches, from every era, going back to World War II. "We have to reform the legal system, and change the culture, so sexual assault in the military is no longer tolerated and is thoroughly prosecuted," she said.

But even if sexual assaults in the military were to end today, Pingree says there are untold numbers of victims of past assaults who have had difficulty getting treatment and disability benefits. The Ruth Moore Act, she says, will make it easier for them, under a similar policy the VA has adopted for determining benefits for vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"The Ruth Moore Act just asks the VA to do the same thing for victims of military sexual assault," she said. "If a VA doctor gives a veteran a diagnosis of mental health condition, and there is a medical link to the sexual assault, then the VA will have to qualify the veteran for service-related disability benefits."

The woman for whom the bill is named, Ruth Moore, says she's relieved - "so relieved that that my brothers and sisters will be able to have an easier road getting the help that they need, versus what I went through," she says.

Moore was 19, serving the Navy on a base in the Azores, when she was raped by her supervisor. She reported it, but was told to keep quiet, and was raped again. She struggled from the effects of the trauma, and sought benefits from the VA for more than two decades. Moore testified last year before a congressional subcommittee, and watched Tuesday's vote from her home in Milbridge.

"Today our leaders have made tremendous progress for humanity and to restore the integrity that so many veterans have lost confidence in," she says. "I'm just pleased in ways that I can't even describe. I have tears in my eyes right now. I've already cried a little bit. I've been watching this on CSPAN. I'm just relieved - there's just so many feelings right now."

Pingree says she believes a similar bill on the Senate side, sponsored by Democrat Jon Tester of Montana has solid support. "I do think so, and we've also heard from the administration this is the kind of action that they could actually take on their own, and they have a great level of interest in that, so I think we're going to see forward momentum here," she says.

Tester's bill is scheduled to be taken up by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs next week.


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