(Washington, D.C.)—Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) applauds the inclusion of S.871 in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. The provisions outlined in S.871—introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)—provide Military Sexual Trauma victims with broad protective measures, legal counsel, and reporting requirements. Provisions of S.871 also provide access to Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC) by members of the National Guard and Reserve, as well as revisions to the responsibility and authority of the Department of Defense's (DoD) Sexual Assault and Response Office (SAPRO).
Said Marsha Four, chair of the VVA Women Veterans Committee, "Vietnam Veterans of America has long been vocal on the issue of sexual assault in the military, providing testimony as early as 1992 during Hill hearings precipitated by the Tailhook scandal. We stand with the thousands upon thousands of victims who have suffered for decades. At last, the issue of sexual assault can no longer be swept away, and finally, the American public is learning of the immensity of this unacceptable and disturbing military 'secret.' "
However, VVA was equally dismayed that the Military Justice Improvement Act (S.967), introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), was voted down in a 17-9 vote, led by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Armed Services Committee, resulting in its failure to be considered for inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. S.967 calls for amendments to Title 10, United States Code, to modify various authorities relating to procedures for courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and for other purposes.
"We are deeply disappointed and share Sen. Gillibrand's concern that the voices of the victims of sexual assault have been drowned out by the military leaders who have failed to combat this crisis. We stand with Sen. Gillibrand as she continues to push for this provision when the Defense bill is presented for a vote on the full Senate floor," said Four. The action to defeat S.967 sided with the stance of DoD's leadership, who at the Wednesday, June 12, hearing, indicated that progress is contingent on leadership being held accountable. Said Four, "VVA has grown weary of this argument and stands in favor of S.967. As noted by DoD at the hearing, far too many victims fail to report or choose restricted reporting primarily for two reasons: retaliation and total lack of faith in fair just treatment within the chain of command."
VVA is heartened that seven women now sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who is in support of the Murray/Ayotte Senate bill, cautioned military leaders against thinking the debate over sexual trauma would end with congressional votes. "We are not going to give up focusing on this problem. We aren't going anywhere," said McCaskill.