Disability Rights

The ACLU’s Disability Rights work strives for an America free of discrimination against people with disabilities, where people with disabilities are valued, integrated members of society who have full access to education, homes, healthcare, jobs, and families.  The project is also committed to ensuring people with disabilities are no longer segregated into, and over-represented in, civil and criminal institutions such as nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, jails and prisons.

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We Must Honor the Service of All Veterans, Including Sexual Assault Victims

We Must Honor the Service of All Veterans, Including Sexual Assault Victims

By Sandra Park, ACLU at 4:55pm
Twenty-three years.  That’s how long it took Ruth Moore, who served in the Navy, was raped by her supervisor, and suffers from night terrors, panic attacks, and insomnia, to obtain disability compensation. On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held an important hearing on the enormous barriers faced by veterans seeking disability benefits based on conditions – such as post-traumatic stress disorder  (PTSD) and depression – they experience because they were sexually assaulted during their service.   Presenting data obtained through our FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD), Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women’s Action Network testified that only 32 percent of PTSD disability claims based on military sexual trauma (MST) were approved by the Veterans Benefits Administration, compared to an approval rate of 54 percent of all other PTSD claims from 2008-2010.  Moreover, of those MST survivors who were approved for benefits, women were more likely to receive a lower disability rating than men, therefore qualifying for less compensation. The VA’s regulations explicitly treat veterans who claim PTSD based on sexual trauma differently from those whose PTSD arose from combat. Even when a veteran can establish a diagnosis of PTSD during service and his or her mental health provider connects the PTSD to sexual assault during service, the VA requires additional evidence, such as police reports, that generally does not exist.  As the Department of Defense itself acknowledges, the vast majority of servicemembers who are raped do not report the assault, because of the retaliation they are likely to face.   Many MST survivors who apply for disability benefits, when confronted with the hurdles set by the VA, give up.  Some, like Ms. Moore, struggle for years and decades before finally receiving compensation.   The harsh treatment of VA disability claims filed by sexual assault victims is especially disturbing given that veterans cannot access other remedies available to civilian survivors.  Civilians who are sexually assaulted on the job can file civil claims against their employer under state or federal laws like Title VII, receive compensation for their injuries, and seek to change the way their employer responds to sexual violence.  Servicemembers, however, are barred from pursuing these remedies because of Supreme Court doctrine shielding the military from suit.   This week’s hearing was a good step in exposing the failure of the government to prevent, address, and respond to sexual violence within the ranks.  And we will continue to fight the VA and DoD for the records we need to shed further light on what we must do to end military sexual assault and truly honor the service of all survivors.

Your Privacy Rights, Before Congress Now and the Supreme Court in November

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 1:39pm

In June, we told you the Supreme Court agreed to hear United States v. Jones, a case that will determine if the government may plant GPS devices on vehicles to track people without a warrant. The government has appealed the D.C. appellate court's…

A Day in Court for Civil Rights Claims: The Supreme Court Tackles the Ministerial Exception

By Daniel Mach at 3:44pm

Do religious institutions get a categorical free pass to discriminate against certain employees, regardless of the reason? That issue lies at the heart of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission…

MIA: Missing in America

MIA: Missing in America

By Sam Ritchie, ACLU at 10:09pm

“The federal government should not have to be sued into giving veterans with mental illnesses and brain injuries the care they need so they don’t end up living in the street. But it has come to that.” – New York Times Editorial,…

Obama Administration Fails to Halt Runaway "Secure Communities" Train, Ignoring Complaints of Governors, Congress, and Law Enforcement Leaders

By Joanne Lin, Washington Legislative Office at 6:05pm

Last Friday the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced their proposed changes to the much-criticized Secure Communities (S-Comm) program, the centerpiece of the Obama administration's immigration…

Reforming a System of Assault on Students' Rights

By Sarah Preston, ACLU of North Carolina at 3:24pm

For the first time in 25 years, the North Carolina. legislature has passed much-needed reform regulating how local school districts use corporal punishment. Back in 1985, the legislature passed a law allowing schools to decide whether or not to use…

Wonder in the Classroom

By Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan at 3:16pm

For some parents, the first time their children begin dressing themselves is a stressful, embarrassing or frustrating experience. After all, how exactly do you explain to a kindergartner that a tutu, moccasins and a bathing suit just won't cut it in…

Human Dignity for People with Disabilities

By Nahal Zamani, Human Rights Program at 5:23pm

(Originally posted on FDL's The Seminal.)

December 3 marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day where we mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. To mark the occasion, we're…

Obama Administration to Sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

By Nahal Zamani, Human Rights Program at 5:56pm

Great news! Today, on the 19th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Obama announced that his administration will be signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in a…

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