No one would listen to Navy servicewoman Ruth Moore when she was sexually assaulted by her supervisor. No one would listen to her when she was discharged after a suicide attempt and asked for help from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But now, nearly 30 years later, someone has finally listened. The U.S. Congress in a unanimous voice vote passed the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, which will make it easier for sexual assault victims to speak up and receive help for the trauma of sexual assault and its lifelong repercussions.

The act will help thousands of military sexual assault victims receive treatment. Instead of forcing them to prove they were the victim of an assault, which may have been covered up or never reported, proof that the veterans current mental state is related to his or her service can be established by a mental health professional. That’s the same standard used for combat-related stress disorders and permits veterans to receive the benefits that they have earned.

The bill, sponsored by Maine’s 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, is the first piece of legislation to pass since the sexual assault scandal has become public. (Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority shareholder of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.) It is a solid first step, and the strong bipartisan support it received shows that important work can still be done in a sharply divided government,.

That’s good, because there is still important work to do. First, the Senate should pass the Ruth Moore Act, send it to the president and allow thousands of veterans get the help they need. But that alone will not punish perpetrators or prevent future assaults from occurring.

One of the most astounding facts to emerge from investigations into this problem is its size and scope.


The Pentagon released a report last month estimating that there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military last year. In her speech in favor of the bill, Pingree said she has met with victims, male and female, who were assaulted while serving during World War II, Afghanistan and every conflict in between.

Moore is one of many veterans who say they tried to report, but were retaliated against by a chain of command that protects its own. Even when the process worked and there was a conviction, a commanding officer could overturn it for any reason.

This is clearly a crisis built into the military culture, and Congress should take action to change it. Unfortunately, it will have to do so over the objections of the military’s top brass.

This problem is too big and has been going on for too long to let the military sort it out. These cases should not be handled within the normal military justice system, which has already failed so badly.

It’s time to listen to Ruth Moore and all the other victims of military sexual assault.

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