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Maine woman to work with VA as it expands services to more victims of military sexual assault

Ruth Moore, as an active-duty sailor

By ABIGAIL CURTIS | Bangor Daily News, Maine | Published: December 3, 2014

MILBRIDGE, Maine (Tribune News Service) — Maine resident and military sexual assault survivor Ruth Moore said Tuesday she is heartened by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' decision to expand mental health services to reservists and National Guard members who were sexually assaulted while on inactive duty.

"I'm very, very, very thrilled," Moore, of Milbridge, said. "I can honestly say this is the first time in 27 years that I feel hope for the VA."

Moore met last week in Washington, D.C., with VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald, after she had written him in October and asked to discuss some veterans sexual assault issues with him. Her namesake legislation about military sexual trauma, the Ruth Moore Act, had stalled in the U.S. Senate, and Moore had heard from many veterans in need of help from the department.

"VA simply must be an organization that provides comprehensive care for all veterans dealing with the effects of military sexual trauma," McDonald said in a statement issued Monday. "Our range of services for [military sexual trauma and] related experiences are constantly being re-examined to best meet the needs of our veterans."

Previously, veterans seeking help after being sexually assaulted while on weekend drills or other inactive duty training could not be certain they would be eligible for mental health or other services.

According to the VA, Moore will be working with the department to ensure survivors are treated fairly and compassionately and veterans suffering from military sexual trauma can access fair compensation exams. They also will have access to health care practitioners who are trained in understanding and working with military sexual trauma issues.

Moore, who was sexually assaulted by her supervisor when she was an 18-year-old Navy servicewoman, said she recently has seen some positive changes in the military's approach to sexual trauma. In May, she learned she will receive more than $400,000 in back benefits for claims related to the sexual assaults against her that previously had been denied by the VA. She had fought for 20 years to receive benefits.

"The community has banded together to help our veterans," Moore said Tuesday. "It's a really nice change compared to what I saw three to five years ago."

Recently, the military and the VA have been scrutinized and often criticized for their responses to reported sexual assaults. Last year, reported sexual assaults in the military jumped 50 percent amid a high-profile crackdown on the problem, from 3,374 reported cases of assault in 2012 to 5,061 in 2013. Pentagon officials this spring hailed the spike as a sign that victims increasingly are confident the crime will be prosecuted.

Moore said she believes the VA has an "entirely different dynamic" under McDonald, the former Procter & Gamble president who took over from Gen. Eric Shinseki, who resigned earlier this year.

"It's 180 degrees different," she said. "We want a unified standard for veterans, and he agreed wholeheartedly when we met last week. It was very empowering."

Moore said she discussed with McDonald the idea of traveling across the country, visiting different VA units to make sure all are in compliance with the sexual assault standards. Already, she has been receiving calls from military sexual assault survivors from all over the country, seeking information and support. Through "Internity," the new nonprofit organization she founded with her husband, Butch, she is glad to be able to provide some help.

"Our goal is to empower veterans to start rebuilding their lives," she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Navy veteran Ruth Moore speaks at a Feb. 13, 2013, news conference introducing the Ruth Moore Act, which would lower the burden of proof establishing a link between a military sexual assault and later emotional or mental problems. Behind her are (from left to right) Anu Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen. Jon Tester.
LEO SHANE/STARS AND STRIPES