The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding mental health services available to National Guard members and reservists who were sexually assaulted while on inactive duty in response to concerns raised by Maine resident Ruth Moore and other veterans.

The VA announced Monday that the agency will begin offering mental health care to veterans seeking treatment for sexual assaults or sexual harassment that occurred during weekend drills or other inactive duty training.

The change is intended to address a gap in current policies in which reservists and Guard members could access treatment for conditions connected to a sexual assault that occurred while they were serving on active duty – such as when deployed – but could be denied mental health treatment for incidents that occurred during mandatory training.

The announcement comes less than a week after Moore – a Milbridge resident who has become a national voice for reforming VA policies for “military sexual trauma” survivors – met with VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, D.C.

“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. “Our range of services for MST-related experiences are constantly being reexamined to best meet the needs of our veterans.”

In a recent interview, Moore said her meeting with McDonald was “absolutely phenomenal,” and she walked away feeling reassured about the direction of a department that has been criticized for its handling of sexual assault claims.


“Secretary McDonald is probably the most genuine and the clearest breath of fresh air that I have ever encountered in the VA system,” Moore said. “He was just a spectacular gentleman.”

The VA also announced that Moore will continue working with the department “to ensure that survivors are treated fairly and compassionately, and that Veterans with MST can access fair compensation exams and access health care practitioners who are trained in understanding and working with MST issues.”

Both the VA and the Defense Department have been under intense pressure to improve the agencies’ handling of incidents of sexual abuse within the ranks.

In 2013, a Pentagon study based on surveys of service members estimated that 26,000 men and women in uniform were the targets of sexual abuse or harassment during the previous year, but that less than 3,500 of those cases were reported. Last spring, the Pentagon reported that service members had reported more than 5,000 incidents – an increase that some attributed to service members’ increasing willingness to come forward after an assault. But the study did not estimate the total number of incidents.

The changes announced Monday by the VA are being made as part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which passed Congress this year. The House of Representatives passed a separate bill earlier in the year aimed at closing the coverage gap for service members who were assaulted while on inactive duty.

It’s unclear how many veterans will be affected by the change and calls to the VA were not returned Monday.


U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who has worked closely with Moore and brought her to Washington, D.C., to testify on sexual assault issues, called the VA decision to expand counseling to more veterans “a positive step forward.”

“It shouldn’t matter whether you were deployed on active duty or participating in a National Guard training when the assault took place,” Pingree said in a statement. “If you were in uniform, the VA should be obligated, at a bare minimum, to provide mental health services needed to help you recover. While I applaud the VA for taking steps like this to treat MST survivors, there is much more to be done. I continue to urge the agency to make the changes to the disability claims process outlined in the Ruth Moore Act, which it can already do without the legislation’s passage.”

The Ruth Moore Act of 2013, introduced by Pingree, aimed to make it easier for sexual assault survivors to qualify for VA disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and other disabilities tied to sexual assault.

Moore has emerged as a spokeswoman, of sorts, for survivors of military sexual assault after silently struggling for more than two decades to cope with her own assault by a superior officer when she was a young Navy enlistee. She said she was discharged on a false mental illness diagnosis and never received proper treatment from the military, leading to years of depression, anxiety and other health problems.

She was repeatedly denied VA disability benefits but was granted partial benefits several years ago. Earlier this year, the VA agreed to award Moore in excess of $400,000 in retroactive compensation. Moore is using part of the compensation to create a nonprofit, called Internity, which will work with other veterans who were sexually assaulted.

A veteran and the former president/CEO of Procter & Gamble, McDonald assumed leadership of the VA this past summer after the previous secretary resigned amid a growing scandal over the VA’s handling of a backlog of benefits claims.

Moore said she sent McDonald an email asking for a meeting and that he personally responded within hours. She met for roughly 40 minutes at the VA headquarters with McDonald and several under secretaries.

“It was really productive,” Moore said last week.


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