Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and John Boozman (R-Ark.) introduced bipartisan legislation 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 ensure that veterans have trained support to help them navigate the complicated and often re-traumatizing process of documenting their assault in order to receive the benefits that will help them heal.
“Since my time as Nevada’s Attorney General, I’ve stood up for survivors of sexual assault and worked to get them the resources they need to heal,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “This bipartisan legislation prioritizes the wellbeing of military sexual assault survivors by ensuring they get trained peer support to help guide them through the process of applying for benefits in the wake of debilitating assaults. I’ll continue to work in the Senate to support survivors and veterans alike.”
“This measure will offer invaluable resources to survivors of military sexual trauma,” said Senator Blumenthal. “With the assistance and guidance of peer support specialists, veterans will have an essential partner by their side as they share their stories and document their claims. I’m proud to introduce this legislation to ensure we provide survivors with a strong, comprehensive support system they can depend on.”
“The VA must continue to improve its delivery of benefits and care to survivors of military sexual trauma. This legislation will update the department’s policies to create a peer support program that expands access to critical resources and meet veteran survivors’ needs as they seek out vital assistance,” Senator Boozman said.
“At Wounded Warrior Project, we know that peer support can be essential to the wellbeing and recovery for many of our warriors. Guidance and encouragement from another warrior who has walked a similar path can have a life-changing impact,” said Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) Chief Program Officer Jennifer Silva. “This legislation would create a stronger system of peer support for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) pursuing a claim at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and we thank Senators Cortez Masto, Blumenthal, and Boozman for its introduction. This bill is a top priority for Wounded Warrior Project over the remainder of this Congress and we encourage other Senators to join this bipartisan effort to help improve the lives of America’s veterans.”
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 anassault. 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.
Full text of the bill is available here.
Senator Cortez Masto is a champion in the Senate advocating for our veterans and their families. In December, her legislation to protect VA benefits for student veterans was signed into law. She recently introduced bipartisan legislation to make it easier for veterans who have a service-related medical condition to get the benefits they are owed. As part of the NDAA of 2021, she secured measures to improve mental health services for members of the National Guard and Reserves, support Navy members in getting the retirement benefits owed to them, and increase the transparency and efficiency of the Department of Defense’s TRICARE medical billing practices. 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, which will help law enforcement arrest violent predators and improve access to resources for survivors.