WASHINGTON — A subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing Tuesday on a bill inspired by a Maine woman that would make it easier for veterans who are survivors of sexual assault in the military to receive compensatory benefits.
The bill is named for Ruth Moore, a Milbridge woman who was raped by her supervisor a quarter-century ago, when she was an 18-year-old Navy sailor. Moore attended Tuesday’s hearing, according to a release from U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District.
Pingree sponsored the bill, the Ruth Moore Act, and testified to the subcommittee Tuesday. The bill would align eligibility for veterans benefits related to sexual assaults in the military with standards that apply to combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans seeking benefits would simply have to show a medical diagnosis of a mental health condition and a link between an assault and that mental health condition.
“Whether the attack happened on a Navy base in Europe or a National Guard training facility here in the U.S., whether they were soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, the story too often has the same ending: the victims were blamed, the crime was covered up, and the survivors themselves became the subject of further harassment and recrimination. And too often, what followed was years of mental health issues, lost jobs, substance abuse and homelessness,” Pingree testified. “With the Ruth Moore Act we can change the VA’s policy so that veterans who survive a sexual assault can at least get the benefits they deserve.”
Pingree, who has made advocacy for military sexual assault victims a priority during her three terms in Congress, introduced a similar bill during the last session. Despite compelling testimony from Moore, the bill did not pass.
As an 18-year-old, Moore, now 44, was sexually assaulted twice by her immediate supervisor while stationed at a Navy base on the Azores. Her attacker was never charged. Moore was incorrectly diagnosed with a mental health disorder and discharged from the Navy. It took more than 20 years for her to receive veterans benefits.
“I’m still serving my country. Maybe not in a uniform, but I’m still serving my country,” Moore told the Bangor Daily News in February, when she talked about her experience and the problems military sexual assault survivors face when applying for benefits or seeking justice. “This is a problem that America has right now, but we’re still Americans, and I have hope that we can fix this.”
BDN reporter Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.