Sen. Blumenthal introduces legislation aimed at aiding veterans who were sex assault victims

Connecticut’s senior senator, the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs commissioner, and advocates announced legislation aimed at ensuring that veterans who
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 12:32 PM EDT
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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Connecticut’s senior senator, the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs commissioner, and advocates announced legislation aimed at ensuring that veterans who survived military sexual trauma have access to help.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, commissioner Thomas Saadi and the Wounded Warrior Project held a news conference at 12:15 p.m. at Minuteman Park in Hartford.

They introduced a bill that will ensure veterans who have survived military sexual trauma (MST) have access to trained peer support specialists within the Department of Veterans Affairs to help them navigate the complicated and often re-traumatizing process of documenting their assault.

“It’s depressing and sad to hear that everyone has a different experience in the military than I did,” says Denise Florio of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Denise Florio served ten years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve. Now she works as a peer support group leader for the Wounded Warrior Project.

“It’s very important for me to make sure that my sisters and brothers who are dealing with this military sexual trauma know that they have an advocate,” says Florio.

Currently, Blumenthal said veterans who file disability claims with the VA to receive benefits due to the effects of MST have no formal mental or emotional health support.

“Survivors now have precious little in the way of resources,” says Blumenthal.

The Blumenthal-led legislation would will offer invaluable resources to survivors of military sexual trauma to help them heal and formally document their claims.

He said an estimated 1 in 4 female veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans in the VA healthcare system report experiencing MST.

Florio says these incidents of sexual trauma are usually underreported.

“They don’t say anything because usually what happens is they go to someone in their command to talk about what took place, they’re the ones that are victimized. They’re the ones that are mistreated,” says Florio.

Senator Richard Blumenthal and Denise Florio are hoping that will change.

On Tuesday, Blumenthal announced bipartisan legislation that will help provide veteran survivors with peer support specialists.

“That initial decision to come forward to step up to complain, to sound the alarm, is so critical because the threat of retaliation is rea and eminent, and that’s where a peer support specialist could play the greatest role,” says Blumenthal.

Peer support specialists will be within the department of veterans affairs and will help survivors navigate the complicated and some times re-traumatizing process of sharing their story.

“My hope is that more victims will come forward and get the help they need because the support will be there and carry them through,” says Folio.