April 7, 2013

Washington Notebook: Mainers get results on sex assaults in military

New guidelines released Friday are intended to give victims of sexual assault more peace of mind when applying for security clearance.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - Members of Maine's congressional delegation continue to focus on addressing the myriad issues tied to sexual assault in the armed forces and, in some cases, are getting positive responses from military officials.

The latest example came Friday when the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, released new guidelines intended to give victims of sexual assault more peace of mind when applying for security clearance. Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, was among those leading the push for the changes.

The issue focused on a question that appears on the security clearance form that asks applicants whether they have received counseling during the past seven years. Current policies allow respondents to answer "no" if the counseling was related to combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as well as family and marriage counseling. The new guidelines will also allow sexual assault victims to answer "no."

According to Pingree and organizations such as the Service Women's Action Network, some sexual assault survivors have been hesitant to seek counseling for past abuses out of fear that answering "yes" could disqualify them for security clearance. That, in turn, could affect their career trajectory.

In his announcement, Clapper singled out Pingree, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts as well as SWAN and Protect Our Defenders for their work.

"Through our combined efforts victims of sexual assault will be encouraged to seek the mental health services they may need while feeling safe that their privacy protections are strictly enforced," Clapper said.

In another recent development, Coast Guard officials have agreed to alter their policies to allow sexual assault survivors to receive expedited transfers away from their attackers.

Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Tsongas and Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio had written to the Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Robert Papp, in February to express concern that -- unlike the other branches of the military -- the Coast Guard had not yet implemented an expedited transfer policy. Papp replied a month later that he had instructed his staff to update the Coast Guard's policies.

Finally, Veterans Affairs officials have agreed to re-examine sexual assault-related claims that were denied. VA denials for claims related to sexual assault are the target of a bill, the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, named for a Maine woman who fought with the VA for decades. A House committee will hold a hearing later this month on the bill, of which Pingree is the lead sponsor.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

SNEAK PEEK AT SNOWE BOOK

Retired Sen. Olympia Snowe's book on addressing congressional dysfunction won't be released for another month. But readers can get a sneak peek on Amazon.com.

The online bookseller has posted numerous pages from Snowe's forthcoming book, "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress," including much of the introduction.

The frustration that Snowe, R-Maine, expressed repeatedly during her final 10 months in the Senate are clearly echoed in her book. Snowe retired after 34 years in Congress because of that frustration.

"I understand why so many Americans are fed up with government," she writes in the introduction. "The 112th Congress was almost universally derided as the worst ever. It was the most polarized body since the end of Reconstruction, according to one study, and I grew embarrassed by its partisan bickering, inactivity, and refusal to address the vital challenges facing America."

But the moderate Republican also proposes reforms, such as switching to open primaries, rolling back the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision on campaign finance, and procedural changes.

(Continued on page 2)

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