U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree on Wednesday introduced a bill inspired by a Milbridge woman that aims to make it easier for victims of sexual assault while in the military to qualify for federal veterans’ benefits.
Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st U.S. House District, introduced the bill along with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The Ruth Moore Act would reduce the standard of proof for victims of military sexual assault so they can more easily obtain benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Moore, the Milbridge woman who inspired the act, spoke at the news conference.
“I fought for 23 years to get the benefits I was owed,” Moore said, according to a news release from Pingree’s office. “My records were tampered with, I was diagnosed with a mental illness I didn’t have, and my life fell apart. That shouldn’t have to happen to anyone, and this bill will make it a little easier for veterans who deserve some compensation.”
Moore was brutally raped twice by a supervisor as an 18-year-old Navy service member stationed on a base in the Azores. The trauma ended her military career and left her with a sexually transmitted disease.
In the ensuing years, Moore attempted to qualify for disability benefits but was denied multiple times, even though she submitted testimony backing up her account of being raped and being subsequently treated for chlamydia. Military higher-ups denied the rapes had happened, and her attacker never was brought to justice.
Pingree said she receives calls weekly from veterans who have been sexually assaulted while in uniform. Often the attack never was reported and never included in their records, so when they later try to file for benefits related to the attack, the Department of Veterans Affairs denies them for lack of proof, Pingree’s spokesman, Willy Ritch, told the Bangor Daily News last week.
Nearly 90 percent of victims do not report their attack out of fear of retaliation, according to Pingree’s office. If it passes, the Ruth Moore Act would allow military sexual assault survivors with only a diagnosis of a mental health condition and a link between the assault and that condition to receive benefits.
Pingree introduced the measure in Congress last year, but it didn’t pass. She’s reintroducing it this year to a new Congress.
“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 benefits they deserve,” Pingree said in a news release. “It’s a classic case of adding insult to injury.”