Bonamici Supports Passage of Ruth Moore Act to Stop Denial of PTSD Benefits to Military Sexual Assault Victims - VA Currently Denies Two-Thirds of Sexual Assault Related PTSD Claims
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) today voted to pass the Ruth Moore Act (H.R. 671), legislation she co-sponsored to ease the burden of proof required to prove Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to a military sexual assault. Veterans who are partially or fully disabled from an injury suffered while serving in the military are entitled to disability benefits, but approximately two-thirds of sexual assault related claims are rejected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“The Ruth Moore Act will stop the unfair denial of VA disability claims related to military sexual assault,” said Bonamici. “Victims of sexual assault shouldn’t be victimized a second time by an inflexible VA policy. This legislation creates more realistic standards for PTSD disability claims related to sexual assault.”
Current VA policy requires disability applicants to show they have been diagnosed with a medical or mental health issue, provide proof that an event (a “stressor”) happened to them while serving in the military, and provide evidence of a link between the stressor and the health issue. Because many incidents of sexual assault go unreported or are not prosecuted, many victims find it difficult to provide evidence of an assault. The Ruth Moore Act would allow a statement from the survivor (“lay testimony”), along with a statement from a mental health professional to be sufficient proof.
The legislation is named after Ruth Moore, who was raped by her supervising officer while serving in the Navy. She was raped a second time as retaliation for reporting the first attack. No charges were ever brought and Moore was later discharged and labeled as having a mental illness. Moore fought for 23 years for disability benefits while suffering from a sexually transmitted disease she contracted during the assault. In 2009, a VA investigator discovered that her medical records had been tampered with and eventually helped her win a 70 percent disability rating and corresponding benefit.
According to the Defense Department’s FY2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) report an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact occurred in FY2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011. Meanwhile, overall rates of reporting dropped from 13.5 percent in 2011 to 9.8 percent in 2012. In 2011, victims reported 3,192 out of 19,000 incidents, compared to 2012, where victims reported just 3,374 out of 26,000 incidents. Although the number of perpetrators convicted of committing sexual assault increased from 191 in 2011 to 238 in 2012, the conviction rate dropped from 1 percent in 2011 to 0.9 percent in 2012.
Bonamici supports broader legislation to address military sexual assault, including the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013. This Act removes from the chain of command the prosecution of crimes punishable by a sentence of more than one year, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature like disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave. This reform would prevent injustices related to military sexual assault and other forms of misconduct.
Bonamici is also a co-sponsor of legislation with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). H.R. 3435, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act – or STOP Act—would take the reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the military’s normal chain of command and place jurisdiction in a new, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts.