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President signs provisions supporting survivors of sexual assault in military

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U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) announced that President Obama has signed into law provisions she and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) authored supporting survivors of sexual assault in the military as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The Klobuchar-Collins provisions will require the Department of Defense to develop a coordinated policy to ensure the preservation of documents connected with sexual assault reports in the military and provide full privacy and identity protection for the victim. In addition to the provisions, Klobuchar also included an amendment requiring the Department of Defense to guarantee storage of most documents connected with reports of sexual assaults in the U.S. military for an estimated 50 years.

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"If an American in uniform suffers the horrific trauma of sexual assault while fighting for their country, they shouldn't have to fight to receive care and pursue justice," Klobuchar said. "This important legislation will now become the law of the land and help ensure survivors of sexual assault have the support they need and deserve."

"Senator Klobuchar's amendment is an important milestone in continuing efforts to establish a sound DOD policy for records preservation vital to veterans seeking VA benefits for conditions related to military sexual trauma (MST)," said Donald L. Samuels, national commander of the Disabled American Veterans. "The veterans community salutes her leadership and determination on this important issue."

"VFW applauds Senator Klobuchar for her efforts to provide improvements within VA and DOD in cases of sexual assault documentation - She has been at the forefront of the fight for MST victims. Her amendment will help provide many victims the evidence to validate claims for VA disability for MST," said Ray Kelley, Legislative Director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

Until today there has been no coordinated policy across the U.S. service branches to ensure the preservation of medical and other reports connected with sexual trauma. Each service branch has been left to develop its own policy, resulting in inconsistent recordkeeping and frequent destruction of records. Long-term preservation of records can help a victim seek medical and disability assistance, and certain records can also be used as evidence in a later crime involving the same perpetrator.

In recent years there has been an increase in reports of sexual assaults in the military. According to the Department of Defense, there were 3,158 official reports of sexual assaults in the military in 2010. Because most incidents are not reported to a military authority, the Pentagon estimates this number represents only 13 to 14 percent of total assaults - making the total estimated number of sexual assaults in the military over 19,000 in 2010.

Research has shown that sexual trauma not only hurts the victims, but can also take a toll on their fellow service members by severely undermining unit cohesion, morale and overall force effectiveness.

Klobuchar's and Collins' Support for Survivors Act, much of which is included in the National Defense Authorization Act, will:

Require the Department of Defense to develop a policy to ensure the preservation of documents connected with reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.

Ensure full privacy and identity protection for both the victim and the perpetrator, if known.

Grant the VA access to documents only at the request of a service member, for the purpose of assisting with the processing of a disability compensation claim.

Allow the Department of Defense to review the data (but not the names of the individuals mentioned in the reports) to improve research and reporting.

Klobuchar's efforts to support military sexual assault victims have been supported by the Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion, AMVETS, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and the Wounded Warrior Project. The Support for Survivors Act was also endorsed by the Service Women's Action Network.

Please see your local county veterans service officer if you have any questions. You can contact your local VSO at (218) 631-7617 or by e-mail at david.anderson@co.wadena.mn.us. As always, have a great week.

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