Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) announced the Senate passage of her bipartisan legislation, with John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), to ensure that veterans who have survived military sexual trauma (MST) have access to trained peer support specialists within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Currently, veterans who file disability claims with the VA for benefits due to the physical and mental effects of MST have no formal mental or emotional health support. This legislation will provide veterans with trained support to help them navigate the complicated and often re-traumatizing process of documenting their assaults. This bill now goes to the president’s desk for signature.
“I have advocated for survivors of sexual assault throughout my career and worked to help them heal,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “The passage of this bill will make sure military sexual assault survivors have someone by their side as they navigate the process of applying for critical benefits they have earned and deserve.”
“Our bill will improve how the VA cares for survivors of military sexual trauma,” said Senator Boozman. “I’m pleased the Senate passed this bipartisan legislation so we can ensure these men and women have the tools and support they deserve.”
“Survivors of military sexual trauma deserve a strong, comprehensive support system,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our bill allows peer support specialists to stand by impacted veterans bravely sharing their personal stories. I’m thrilled the Senate has passed this critical measure for survivors and look forward to President Biden’s signature.”
Sexual assault in the military is vastly underreported due to concerns about confidentiality, retaliation, and the perception that the military chain of command will be unresponsive. This makes providing evidence of MST problematic when a veteran files a claim for disability benefits based on the physical and mental impacts of an assault. This bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that every individual who files a claim relating to MST is assigned a peer support specialist during the claims process. These peer support specialists must be trained to support veterans throughout the MST claims process.
“At Wounded Warrior Project, we strongly believe in the power of peers to deliver the meaningful connections and support systems that are so critical to fighting isolation and finding help, especially for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST),” said Jen Silva, Chief Program Officer. “The VA Peer Support Enhancement for MST Survivors Act has the potential to create life-changing impact for veterans pursuing claims at VA for their trauma. We were proud to work with Senators Cortez Masto, Blumenthal, and Boozman on this important legislation and thank them for their support of our nation’s veterans.”
Senator Cortez Masto is a champion in the Senate advocating for our veterans and their families. She helped get the PACT Act passed in the Senate to ensure veterans can get access to care and treatment they are entitled to in the wake of toxic exposures during their service to our country. In December of 2021, her legislation to protect VA benefits for student veterans was signed into law. She has introduced bipartisan legislation to make it easier for veterans who have a service-related medical condition to get the benefits they are owed. Senator Cortez Masto has also been an outspoken advocate for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. She cosponsored and helped secure passage of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, to help law enforcement arrest violent predators and improve access to resources for survivors.