Friday July 22, 2011 | 11:56 AM

Rep. Chellie Pingree’s legislation easing hurdles to disability benefits for veterans who have suffered sexual assault during their military service now has a Senate companion bill.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, this week introduced a virtually identical bill, according to Pingree’s office.

“Senator Tester is good friend to veterans and he understands that victims of military sexual assault haven’t been getting a fair shake and it’s time to change the way we treat them,” said Pingree, D-1st.

Pingree has said that the Department of Veterans' Affairs recently has changed its policy to accomplish much of what the Maine Democrat wanted in a bill Pingree introduced in March. But the lawmaker thinks her bill is still needed to put the force of law behind the VA's new stance.

Despite the change, official VA policy still requires “secondary evidence” for victims to prove they were sexually assaulted, according to Pingree’s office.  Pingree and Tester’s bills require that veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from a sexual assault would only have to meet the same standards of proof as those seeking benefits for combat-related PTSD, Pingree’s office said.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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