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VA Secretary Asked to Ease Rules For Victims of Sexual Assault

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Nearly two dozen members of the U.S. House have written to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking him to ease the rules for victims of sexual assault in the military who now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The changes, similar to those that would be required in a bill Pingree has introduced, would relax burdensome requirements for proving the occurrence of rape or sexual assault that make it difficult to receive disability benefits and coverage for their medical care.

"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."

Pingree has been an outspoken advocate for victims of military sexual trauma.

"These are women and men who have signed up to serve and who are willing to risk their lives to defend our country. It is bad enough when they become victims of sexual assault, but denying them benefits they deserve is outrageous and simply unacceptable."

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.

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.

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