González-Colón, Mace, Jacobs, and Ross introduce legislation to provide disability compensation to military retirees for sexual trauma
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (NPP, R) of Puerto Rico, along with representatives Nancy Mace (R) of South Carolina, Sara Jacobs (D) of California, and Deborah Ross (D) of North Carolina have introduced bipartisan legislation, HR 4452, the Military Sexual Trauma Retirement Equity Act (MSTREA), to enable all military retirees with disabilities caused by military sexual trauma (MST) to receive their full retirement and disability compensation.
Currently, military retirees who have a disability caused by MST cannot recover their full retirement pay if they are medically retired, or if they are tenure-retired with a total disability rating less than 50%.
This legislation would rectify this situation by defining MST as an exposure that meets the criteria for Combat-Related Special Compensation. In doing so, retirees with disabilities caused by MST would be able to recover their full entitlement after going through the established disability claims process with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
A retired service member can receive two kinds of paychecks from their service; a retirement one from the Department of Defense and a disability check from the VA. Retirees who receive a disability check receive less retirement pay unless their disability is “combat-related” (i.e. someone injured during training or by an improvised explosive device IED).
“MSTREA seeks to cure this inequitable treatment by allowing a survivor of military sexual trauma to receive the same funding that a combat veteran is eligible for. Our veterans sacrifice so much for our country, and they should not be subject to this kind of treatment while in service, and even less so, not receive compensation for trauma to this magnitude,” said González-Colón. “I’m proud to have introduced this bipartisan bill to address this injustice while also protecting these veterans from the stigma and harm that comes from needlessly repeating their story of survival to multiple parties.”
In 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 50 men report experiencing Military Sexual Trauma to their VA providers. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is sexual assault or repeated sexual harassment that occurs while the member is serving on duty.
“Enabling all veterans with disabilities caused by military sexual trauma to receive their full retirement and disability compensation is the least we can do for those who served our country,” said Representative Mace. “Instead of being compensated for their sacrifice, our veterans are suffering silently without support. It is time to de-stigmatize sexual trauma and ensure our veterans are receiving the full benefits they have undoubtedly earned.”
The experience of MST can cause a wide range of illnesses that could result in a service-connected disability, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorders, STDs, and reproductive health disorders.
“I am proud to co-sponsor the Military Sexual Trauma Retirement Equity Act, which will help ensure that survivors receive the benefits that they earned and that they are owed. We have a lot of work to do to address sexual assault in the military and improve our support systems for survivors, who should not endure additional financial hardship because the system failed to protect them” said Representative Jacobs.
The VA reports that more than 84,000 veterans have disabilities caused by MST, with more than 57,000 of those disabilities being rated between 70 – 100%.
“It’s deeply concerning that many survivors of Military Sexual Trauma are not able to recover their full retirement pay,” added Representative Ross. “We owe our veterans an enormous debt of gratitude and we cannot fail to act when military retirees who endured heinous acts of violence are unable to receive the benefits they are owed. We must end the stigma around sexual assault and provide our military retirees, including those in North Carolina, with the support needed to recover fully from trauma.”
The legislation has the support of the Minority Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization designed to create belonging and advance equity for underrepresented veterans, including women, people of color, LGBTQ, and religious minorities.
“For too long, survivors of military sexual trauma have not only faced intense institutional barriers while serving but have been made to navigate a system that fails to even recognize the unique traumas that they have endured. Many survivors were meant for long and rewarding military careers, only to be assaulted and have their livelihoods cut short by an institution that is not prepared to keep them safe,” said Lindsay Church, Minority Veterans of America’s Executive Director. “This Bill is a crucial step in acknowledging military sexual trauma while providing necessary support and relief to survivors that have continuously been harmed by broken systems. We applaud [Resident Commissioner] Gonzalez-Colon and her sponsoring colleagues for their dedicated advocacy and call upon our nation’s legislators to help ensure swift passage.”