Congresswoman Chellie Pingree applauded a vote yesterday on the Ruth Moore Act by the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance as a step in the right direction.
"It's encouraging that the committee has moved so quickly on the Ruth Moore Act. For the bill to reach this critical stage only a few weeks after its introduction shows that the stories of MST survivors struggling to receive help have gotten through to members on both sides of the aisle. In today's political climate, that says something," said Pingree. "While I'm disappointed with some of the committee's amendments, the amended bill clearly directs the VA to improve its policies and offers specific guidelines on how to do that."
As Pingree introduced, the Ruth Moore Act would require the VA to make explicit changes to policies concerning MST disability claims. Instead of the current policy's required reports or secondary markers, the bill would allow a veteran's testimony as proof that the sexual assault took place. That testimony with a medical connection between the assault and a mental health condition would be enough to receive benefits. The change is needed because only a small percentage of military personnel report their sexual assaults.
The amended bill the Subcommittee approved yesterday directs the VA to update and improve its MST policies within six months, offering clear suggestions on how to do so. "If passed, I plan on working with the VA to make sure they implement the needed changes to make the claims process consistent and fair for MST survivors," Pingree said.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, S. 294, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Over the last two years, Pingree has become a national leader in fighting for the rights and benefits of MST survivors. She first introduced legislation to reform the MST claims process in March 2011. She reintroduced the legislation as the Ruth Moore Act, named for a Maine veteran who fought for 23 years for disability benefits after her sexual assault, in February of this year. Pingree also appeared in the Oscar-nominated documentary about MST, The Invisible War.
A timeline of Pingree's efforts to reform MST policies is online at www.pingree.house.gov/mst.