A bill named for a Washington County woman and designed to help veterans who have survived sexual assault in the military was passed Monday night by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Supporters of the Ruth Moore Act of 2015, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, now will wait for the U.S. Senate to vote on its own, identical version. Two years ago, a similar bill successfully made it through the House of Representatives, but was not taken up by the Senate.
“I do feel we’ve come a long way since then,” Pingree, the bill’s sponsor, said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “There’s a very good chance it will end up on the president’s desk and be signed into law.”
Ruth Moore of Milbridge is the namesake of and the inspiration for the bill. When she was an 18-year-old Navy sailor in the 1980s, she was raped twice by a superior officer while she was stationed at a base on the Azores. That trauma left her with a sexually transmitted disease, a false diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and a doctored-up military record.
She has had to fight for decades with the Department of Veterans Affairs to get the help she needed. In 2014, she learned she will receive more than $400,000 from the VA for claims relating to the sexual assaults that had previously been denied.
If the Ruth Moore Act becomes law, it would reduce the standard of proof for victims of military sexual assault so that they can more easily obtain benefits and help, similar to how the VA recently relaxed the burden of proof for combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, is the lead Republican cosponsor of the bill.
“I’m pleased to see the Ruth Moore Act passed the House with strong bipartisan support,” Poliquin said in a news release. “It’s imperative we get survivors of military sexual assault the benefits they desperately need as we bring forth justice.”
The Senate has not yet scheduled a time to vote on the bill.
Pingree told the BDN that the VA could make changes on its own to achieve the same results as the bill, but that the agency has “needed a lot of pushing along the way.”