Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is introducing legislation today to make it easier for veterans who have suffered sexual assault during their military service to get the benefits they deserve. The bill would relax burdensome requirements for proving the occurrence of rape or sexual assault that make it difficult to receive benefits and coverage for their medical care.
"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.
Pingree plans on talking to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to ask him to make the change in policy without waiting for legislation to pass.
"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 treatments and benefits they need to recover," Pingree said. "It's a classic case of adding insult to injury."
In July, 2010, the VA changed its rules for most veterans who file claims for PTSD. Under these new rules, veterans need only to show a diagnosis of PTSD, a medical link to the diagnosis and a medical opinion that the claimed stressor is consistent with the circumstances of the veteran's service. This change removes the burden many veterans faced by having to locate documentation verifying the traumatic event. Pingree welcomed this change; however it did not apply to veterans who filed mental health claims based on sexual assault or harassment. Pingree's bill would require that military sexual trauma (MST) victims only need to show a diagnosis of PTSD accompanied by a medical opinion that the claimed assault could support a diagnosis, therefore giving MST victims the same level of requirements their fellow veterans have.
Sexual assault is a serious problem in the military:
· Recently Pingree recently met with five women who had all been victims of rape while serving in the military. Even though they had all reported the attacks, they all told Pingree their attackers had never been punished.
· Last year the Pentagon said there were over 3,000 cases of reported sexual assault in the military, but said that only 10% of all sexual attacks are ever reported
"We have to face up to the fact that the system of military justice has failed over and over again to protect the victims of rape and sexual assault and failed to punish the perpetrators," Pingree said. "It's a system that needs to be fixed, but in the meantime we need to change the rules so veterans who have been victims can get the care and benefits they deserve."