With the Pentagon embroiled in criticism over its handling of sexual assault cases, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said today that he will remain steadfast in his commitment to ensure that veterans who suffered military sexual trauma during service are provided the care and compensation to which they are entitled.
The House yesterday passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) expressing a sense of Congress that VA should update regulations for veterans seeking disability compensation for mental health conditions resulting from service-connect military sexual trauma. The bill that the House passed is named after Navy veteran Ruth Moore. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.).
Sanders (I-Vt.) said the Senate committee will hold a hearing next Wednesday to consider Tester's legislation and other bills.
Moore, a Maine resident who once lived in West Danville, Vt., was raped twice in 1987 by her supervisor in the Navy. After she left the military, Moore's life spiraled downward and her marriage ended. She struggled for 23-years to receive disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Her long battle for benefits finally was successful after she contacted Sanders' office for help.
"In my final effort, I called the Honorable Bernie Sanders and his staff agreed to investigate why the VA was taking so long and denying part of my claim," Moore said in testimony last July before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "Within two weeks, my claim was finally adjudicated I was so grateful for a favorable determination."
"What happened to Ruth shouldn't happen to anyone else," Sanders said. "I look forward to next week's hearing when the committee will consider ways to ensure what happened to Ruth doesn't happen to another veteran."
The problem of sexual assault in the military has been under a spotlight recently after the Pentagon in May released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010. The Defense Department report said only a fraction of the incidents are reported and result in prosecutions that go to trial.