BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Mr. Speaker, first, I want to thank my colleague from Maine, Mr. Michaud, for his time, for his leadership on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and for sharing his brave constituent, Ruth Moore, with me.
I also want to thank Chairman Miller for his bipartisan work on this bill, as well as subcommittee chair, Mr. Runyan, and Ms. Titus, the ranking member, for their work on this issue as well. Thank you very much.
Mr. Speaker, lately it has been hard to escape the news about the crisis of sexual assault in the military. Senior military personnel charged with preventing sexual assault are themselves investigated or arrested for the very same thing.
A new Pentagon report showing 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military last year--up 35 percent. And only about one in 10 of those assaults were reported, and even fewer ended up with a prosecution. In fact, the Pentagon says that every week--every single week--400 sexual assaults go unreported.
But even though we've heard much more about this problem lately, in no way is it a new problem. Almost every day I hear from another veteran who is the survivor of sexual assault in the military. Men and women of all ages, from every branch of the service, from every era. I have heard from survivors of sexual assault from World War II, the war in Afghanistan, and every conflict and every era in between.
There is no question that we have to get to the root of the problem, that we have to reform the legal service and change the culture so sexual assault in the military is no longer tolerated and is thoroughly prosecuted.
But the sad fact remains: even if sexual assault in the military ended today, even if a woman or man in uniform was never raped again, there would still be tens of thousands of veterans who survived a sexual assault and suffer a disability because of it, but still can't get veterans disability benefits that they are owed.
That's why we need this bill, the Ruth Moore Act. This bill doesn't create any new benefits for survivors of sexual assault. This bill doesn't give any special treatment to the survivors of sexual assault. This bill just levels the playing field and makes it easier for those survivors to get the benefits they are owed.
A few years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged that too many combat veterans were suffering from PTSD and they were being denied benefits because it was too difficult to document what happened to them on the battlefield. So the VA made a commonsense change. They said if you were in combat and a VA doctor gives you a diagnosis of PTSD, and if an examiner links that diagnosis to the combat you experienced, then you are eligible for benefits.
The Ruth Moore Act asks the VA to do the same thing for victims of military sexual assault. If a VA doctor gives a veteran a diagnosis of a 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.
Currently, the VA requires ``secondary markers'' to show the sexual assault occurred. Those secondary markers--statements from relatives or friends or a supervisor--are often hard to come by, especially for veterans who suffered an assault years or even decades ago. In the case of combat-related PTSD, those secondary markers are no longer required and the sworn statement of a veteran is sufficient. The same reform should apply to survivors of sexual assault.
We named this bill after a very brave woman from Maine. Ruth Moore was in the Navy when she was 19, serving her country. At a base in the Azores she was raped. When she reported it, she was told to keep quiet, and then she was raped again. For 23 years she fought for the benefits she was owed. 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.
When I met her in my office in Maine 2 years ago, she could barely tell her story. Her friends, her neighbors, even many of her loved ones didn't know what had happened to her. But bit by bit, Ruth has rebuilt her trust of people in positions of responsibility to the point where she came here to Washington and testified before the Veterans' Affairs Committee--a very brave woman.
But there are thousands and thousands of Ruth Moores out there who have been fighting for their benefits for years or even for decades. As survivors of sexual assault, they have suffered and sacrificed enough. We can make the process of getting the benefits they are owed a little bit simpler.
I urge my colleagues to support this important bill.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT