(U.S. Senate) –U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) are introducing bipartisan legislation to ensure the VA is providing appropriate benefits and care for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).
Following reports that nude photos of female service members were posted on Facebook and other websites without the service members’ knowledge or consent, the members’ legislation will allow service members and veterans who have experienced online sexual harassment to access VA counseling and benefits. Victims of cyber sexual harassment are not currently eligible for these services.
“The fact that anyone in uniform has to deal with sexual assault or harassment during the course of their service to our country is unacceptable,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We owe it to every woman and man affected by these awful acts to ensure they have access to the best possible care and the benefits they need.”
“I was outraged by accounts that certain members of the US Marine Corps displayed inappropriate photographs of fellow Marines on social media sites. This action was not merely harmful to the Corps, it was deeply hurtful to the victims of this gross and inappropriate conduct,” said Murkowski. “Today, the United States Senate moves to ensure that our nation accepts the responsibility for helping the victims recover by including cyber harassment within the definition of military sexual trauma. This legislation provides the tools necessary for victims of sexual trauma in the military to seek justice, and cope with the aftermath of such suffering.”
“Tragically, military sexual trauma not only remains a reality but has taken on new forms, as we saw with the recent cyber harassment against dozens of female service members on Facebook,” said Pingree. “While we should do everything in our power to prevent these crimes and hold perpetrators accountable, we also need to ensure that their victims receive the benefits they need and have earned. Anything less is a double injustice to the men and women who suffered while serving our country and carry those wounds for the rest of their lives.”
The Servicemember and Veterans’ Empowerment and Support Act will codify VA policies that reduce the burden of proof on survivors to access trauma and mental health care related to MST. It also expands these standards of evidence to include any mental health disorder resulting from sexual violence.
Additionally, in an effort to encourage more victims to come forward, the bill requires military officials to educate service members about available VA services for military sexual trauma survivors.
The Servicemember and Veterans’ Empowerment and Support Act can be found online HERE.