The military’s sexual assault crisis has been in the headlines consistently for the past two weeks, leading two members of Congress to call on President Obama to take executive action and fix it.
Sen. John Tester (D-MT) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Ruth Moore Act of 2013 earlier this year to help the victims of sexual assault receive benefits once they leave the military. At present, the burden of proof for victims of rape and sexual assault to qualify for disability benefits for conditions related to their trauma, including treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, is shockingly high, leaving many men and women unable to receive the care they need. A scheduled hearing on the bill was meant to take place on Wednesday, but has instead been delayed until June 3.
Rather than waiting for the Ruth Moore Act to pass, the bill’s sponsors sent Obama a letter on Thursday calling on him to use his authority as president to act now:
We commend your willingness to work with Congress to address the prevalence of sexual assault in the military. However, given the increasing rate of these assaults and the dramatic implications they are having on our service members, veterans, and their families, we strongly urge you to take further action to confront this crisis. In particular, you have the ability to provide justice for thousands of survivors of service-related sexual trauma by calling for more fairness in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims process, and increasing their ability to access the benefits they desperately need. [...]
Our legislation continues to garner support in Congress and has been endorsed by every major veterans’ service organization. Legislation, however, is not necessary to keep faith with these veterans. In 2010, the VA relaxed evidentiary standards to make it easier for combat veterans suffering from PTSD to get the disability benefits they need. It is past time the VA make a similar regulatory change for MST survivors. And you can direct them to do so.
Sexual assault and rape culture in the military has reached a tipping point in the last two weeks, with multiple stories about officials in positions to prevent assaults being charged or investigated for sexual assault themselves. “We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Thursday. “That’s a crisis.”