These days, it is tough to get members of Congress united behind a common goal. The House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, have different visions and agendas to push.
Fortunately, there is one area that a large number of members from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol have been able to agree on: reforming how our military handles cases of rape, harassment, sexual assault, violence, and other heinous crimes.
Last month, I joined an incredible bipartisan group of members to introduce the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act. This legislation would move the decision to prosecute serious crimes in the military from the chain of command to independent, trained, and professional military prosecutors.
This legislation is named for Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, who was brutally killed by a fellow soldier in April of 2020 at Fort Hood, a U.S. Army installation in Central Texas. Following a thorough investigation by the Secretary of the Army into Fort Hood’s command culture, 14 Army officials were either fired or suspended. The investigation found major flaws and red flags at Fort Hood. The report also detailed a command climate that was permissive of sexual harassment and assault.
It is completely unacceptable that those who serve our country have faced a broken military justice system. Our legislation will strengthen prevention programs, education, and training. It will also work to improve how we hold offenders accountable while ensuring commanders still have knowledge of what’s going on in their unit. Finally, it would train military prosecutors and give them the skills necessary to handle these important cases.
Our legislation has 159 bipartisan cosponsors in the House. The Senate bill, introduced by Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, has 65 bipartisan cosponsors. Recently, both President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin came out in support of reforming how the military handles these cases.
As a 24-year Army veteran, I understand the trauma that too many of our servicemembers have endured. What happened to Vanessa, and has happened to so many others, is tragic, and we must do more to keep our servicemembers safe and get them the justice they deserve.
You would not send an untrained lawyer into a combat zone. In the same vein, we should not be putting untrained commanders in charge of these sensitive and important cases.
Our military justice system needs to protect and defend the “servicemember”, not just the “service”. The system has been broken for too long and the time to act is now.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a retired Army Lt. Colonel with 24-years of service, a resident of Ottumwa, and currently represents Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.