The U.S. House of Representatives passed a veterans’ bill on Tuesday that includes provisions authored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, and inspired by a sexual assault survivor from Maine.

The Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 aims to address a range of issues, from expanding the time period for widows and widowers of veterans to take advantage of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill to addressing concerns about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ responsibilities for individuals receiving emergency treatment. The bill also includes language that would increase the VA’s reporting requirements pertaining to disability claims submitted by sexual assault victims.

Specifically, the bill would require the VA to report to Congress annually on the number of sexual assault-related claims that have been denied and approved, the number of pending and appealed claims, and the most common reasons the VA denied those claims.

The provisions were originally included in a broader bill submitted by Pingree, called the Ruth Moore Act, that passed the House last year but was never taken up by the Senate.

The bill is named for Ruth Moore, a Maine veteran who was sexually assaulted twice by a superior officer while stationed overseas. Moore reported the incident but she was subsequently discharged from the Navy under a false mental health diagnosis and never received proper treatment. After decades of silence, Moore went public with her story in 2012, testifying before Congress about her decades-long fight for benefits as well as the physical and psychological problems she endured from the sexual assault.

The VA retroactively awarded Moore disability benefits in 2014. The Milbridge resident now works with other sexual assault survivors.

The veterans bill passed by the House on Tuesday is expected to be taken up by the Senate.

“I’m grateful that language from the Ruth Moore Act was included in this bill, and I hope the Senate takes swift action on the legislation,” Pingree said in a statement. “It will provide the information we need to make sure the VA follows through on its promises to fairly treat our veterans. But there is more to be done. I will continue pushing the VA and Congress to ease the burdensome standards that survivors of military sexual assault must meet to receive benefits.”


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