(WASHINGTON, DC)—Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) released an open letter to Congress, urging the passage of Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA).
"Military sexual assault is a multi-generational issue. For decades, it has been swept under the rug yet continues to rear its ugly head. The Department of Defense has attempted to address it with tweaks to the system, but combatting this powerful enemy requires a more dramatic change," said Marsha Four, National Vice President of Vietnam Veterans of America. "Vietnam Veterans of America stands unwavering in its commitment to the resolution of this tragedy. Together, with our partners, SWAN and IAVA, we bring a unified voice to underscore the need for strong military justice reform."
"On behalf of veterans and service members, we join together out of a sense of urgency to reform the military justice system for our men and women in uniform," said SWAN executive director and former Marine Corps captain Anu Bhagwati. "Often, we see the military justice reform debate framed as a choice to support either sexual assault survivors or military readiness. Today, we want to be clear. A vote for Senator Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) is a vote for our troops, and a vote for a stronger military."
A recent Department of Defense survey estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact occurred in 2012. Yet only 3,374 cases of sexual assault were reported. The same survey indicated 62 percent of victims who reported sexual assault experienced retaliation. Those who do not report fear retaliation or that their cases will be swept under the rug.
"Military sexual assault undermines the trust that is the backbone of every military unit. When it happens, it must be aggressively and justly prosecuted. The Military Justice Improvement Act would allow the military to pursue criminals while maintaining the rights of the accused. This balanced, impartial system will strengthen the military justice system and encourage more survivors to report," said IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff.
VVA, SWAN, and IAVA believe strong action is required to restore service members' faith in the military justice system. Despite two decades of sexual assault, scandals that include Tailhook (1991), Aberdeen (1996), the Air Force Academy (2003), and Lackland (2012), no significant progress has been made with respect to combatting military sexual assault.
Vietnam Veterans of America (www.vva.org) is the nation's only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA's founding principle is "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another."
SWAN (www.servicewomen.org) is a national nonpartisan civil rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN's mission is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without discrimination, harassment or assault; and to reform veterans' services to ensure high quality health care and benefits for women veterans and their families.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.