Assemblywoman Russell’s bill to help veteran victims of sexual trauma passes Assembly
Friday, February 14, 2014 - 6:10 am

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) says legislation she authored requiring the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs to provide assistance to veterans who experienced sexual trauma during their military service has passed in the Assembly.

MST, military sexual trauma, refers to sexual assault or harassment that took place during a veteran’s service.

This bill would require the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs to devise a plan to provide assistance and benefits for veterans who experience MST while on active duty or during military training. The legislation would also require county and city veterans service agencies, including St. Lawrence County Veterans Department and the Jefferson County Veterans Service Agency to report information on MST.

“MST is an extremely serious issue that unfortunately has been on the increase and demands action,” Russell said. “The time is now to get serious about addressing this issue and provide a support system for our brave service members so they can recover and regain a sense of normalcy.”

Over 85,000 veterans received treatment for injuries or illness sustained as a result of MST in 2012 alone, Russell said. A Pentagon report for Fiscal Year 2012 – the most recent data available – found a 6 percent rise in reported assaults over the previous year, for a total of 3,374; but roughly 26,000 cases of MST were anonymously reported. The disparity between these numbers highlights the gross underreporting of the sexual abuse that our military service members experience, Russell noted.

“As chair of the Women Veterans Subcommittee and a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I understand that our service members can no longer afford inaction on this issue” Russell said. “I urge members of the Senate to join us in support of this bill; we owe it to our servicemen and women to get this law in place.”

Russell is the lone Democrat among the four Assembly members who represent parts of St. Lawrence County. Her district, the 116th “River” district, includes all townships in the county along the St. Lawrence River, plus Canton, Potsdam, Rossie, Macomb and DePeyster, and northern Jefferson County not including Watertown.