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Committee Moves MST Bill Forward

The Ruth Moore Act Seeks to Change Benefit Evidence Rules. 

Lawmakers in Washington recently began paying closer attention to the growing epidemic of Military Sexual Assault (MST).  Last Tuesday, the Department of Defense announced the number of sexual assaults in the military grew from about 19,000 last year to 26,000 this year.

In a move applauded by veterans and advocates, the following day members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved a measure streamlining access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits for medical conditions associated with sexual assaults.

The bill is named after Ruth Moore, a Navy veteran raped twice by a supervisor after enlisting at age 19 who then developed post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Moore’s claims for compensation and treatment for PTSD were repeatedly denied for 23 years by VA.

Studies confirm sexual trauma is a leading cause of PTSD among women in the military. However, VA insists the Ruth Moore Act is unnecessary.

In new VA data released last week, VA approval of disability claims for military sexual trauma are “roughly on par” with approval rates for claims of PTSD from combat veterans, VA press secretary Josh Taylor told the Army Times. VA, he said, has taken “concrete actions” and there is “more to come.”

Statistics provided by Taylor to the Army Times show that in December, VA approved 59 percent of PTSD claims and 53 percent of military sexual trauma claims, a reflection of steady improvement over an 18-month period. In sharp contrast, less than two years ago VA approved 61 percent of PTSD claims but only 34 percent of sexual trauma claims, prompting an outcry from veterans and advocates for improvements in how VA handles MST / PTSD claims.

The primary goal of the Ruth Moore Act, championed by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, is to ease the burden of proof for sexual assault survivors, who currently are required to provide secondary evidence that the trauma occurred.

The bill calls for allowing a victim’s testimony to serve as evidence that it occurred, and for approving claims based on a medical diagnosis of a mental health condition linked to the attack.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee reviews the bill this week.  Bergmann & Moore will keep you posted on developments regarding this key legislation.

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