Press Releases

Jaime Herrera Beutler Introduces Bill to Protect Military Sexual Assault Survivors

f t # e
Washington, DC, July 12, 2017 | comments
Today, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler introduced a bill to restore honor to survivors of military sexual assault who have been wrongly discharged by improving their access to a fair hearing and ensuring they are not excluded from receiving disability benefits and care by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
share: f t

Today, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler introduced a bill to restore honor to survivors of military sexual assault who have been wrongly discharged by improving their access to a fair hearing and ensuring they are not excluded from receiving disability benefits and care by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This bipartisan bill, Protecting Military Honor Act of 2017, puts safeguards in place to prevent service members from being wrongly discharged for conditions resulting from sexual trauma. For veterans, this bill improves the process by which they may seek redress for wrongful discharges.

“Our service members who have survived a sexual assault have already been through so much, I can’t imagine compounding that trauma with the damaging impact and stigma of carrying an ‘other than honorable’ discharge around for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, we’ve discovered that this has happened to tens of thousands of military veterans,” said Congresswoman Herrera Beutler. “The very least we can do when someone who is willing to die for our nation has reported an assault is ensure their rights are preserved. Assault survivors in the military are much more likely to suffer from PTSD than other combat veterans; they’re more likely to need counseling, care and assistance, and the last thing our country should do is turn its back on them. We can’t undo the assaults these individuals have endured, but we can make sure that justice is on their side. This bill begins to restore that justice.”

Elizabeth Luras, an army veteran and military advocate from Washington state who has worked on behalf of her fellow military sexual trauma survivors, spoke in support of this bill stating, “Supporting and protecting our brave freedom fighters against military sexual trauma shouldn't be a political issue, it's just the American thing to do.”

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA) joined Jaime in cosponsoring this bipartisan bill. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is also introducing companion legislation in the U.S. Senate this week.

“We have heard too many cases where servicemembers believe their military discharge was adversely affected because they were sexually assaulted,” said Congresswoman Tsongas. “We cannot let that stand and must provide for more avenues for service members and veterans in this situation to have their discharge cases reviewed and corrected. Ultimately, this bipartisan effort will help military sexual assault survivors get the benefits they need and deserve. I thank Rep. Herrera Beutler and Sen. Blumenthal for their partnership and dedication to this effort.”

“Survivors of military sexual assault should not be re-victimized by a dishonorable discharge, precluding them from veterans’ benefits and mental health services,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our veterans deserve justice and openness in discharge proceedings, including access to appeals processes for discharge categorization upgrades. For too long, those seeking to upgrade wrongful discharges have been hampered in their efforts to do so – a scourge that is particularly painful for survivors of military sexual assault. That is why Representative Herrera Beutler and I are introducing this bicameral, bipartisan bill to aid survivors of sexual assault, enhance the military records correction process, and improve military whistleblower protections. This legislation will enhance safeguards for our servicemembers and eliminate barriers to justice for veterans – ensuring they have the support and succor they have earned.”

How Jaime’s bill assists military service members:

PROBLEM: Many rape and sexual assault victims in the military suffering from trauma have been mischaracterized and given discharges that make them ineligible for benefits or care from the VA.

SOLUTION:

·         Codifies requirements for how each military branch handles cases related to sexual assault survivors and improves the process by which sexual assault survivors may challenge the terms or characterization of their discharge or separation from the armed forces;

·         Bill requires military to give victims proper examination to ensure they don’t have a mental health condition that was caused by the trauma from the sexual assault;

·         Ensures sexual assault survivors have the right to a hearing to request a discharge upgrade;

·         Allows victims to appeal to federal court for review and ensures the Discharge Review Boards are accountable to judicial review.

PROBLEM: Victims of military sexual assault have to provide a high burden of proof that a crime occurred – this prevents most victims from even reporting the crime. *The Department of Defense reports that more than one third of service members who have reported sexual assaults believe they experienced professional retaliation, such as getting a bad assignment, as a result.

SOLUTION:

·         Aligns the military burden of proof standard with best practices and federal civilian standards so survivors have a fairer opportunity to make their claim;

·         Bill strengthens legal protections against professional retaliation for being a whistleblower and reporting illegal conduct, including sexual assault and harassment.

PROBLEM: To receive a hearing, victims have to go before a Discharge Review Board to challenge the terms or characterization of their discharge, but these boards do not have adequate training in handling sexual assault cases.

SOLUTION:

·         Bill requires boards complete sexual assault training and that each board has a psychologist or psychiatrist present who’s been trained in sexual trauma;

·         Provides guidance to boards and expands existing requirements to ensure better transparency when filing and reporting.

PROBLEM: Veterans have difficulty going before a Discharge Review Board due to proximity, travel constraints and time limitations.

SOLUTION:

·         Bill makes it easier for victims to get a hearing by offering them access through audio/visual components;

·         Removes the 15-year limitation for veterans to be granted a hearing before the boards.

*Jaime is honored to have her bill supported by the following groups: The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Protect our Defenders, Veterans Law School Clinicians, Swords to Plowshares, Service Women’s Action Network, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Human Rights Watch.

f t # e
Tags: Veterans