Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, and Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), along with co-leads Reps. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), John Carter (R-TX), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Pete Olson (R-TX), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-TX), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Jason Crow (D-CO), and Will Hurd (R-TX), and 94 additional co-sponsors, introduced the I am Vanessa Guillén Act in honor of the late SPC Vanessa Guillén and the many survivors of military sexual violence who have bravely come forward in the wake of her disappearance and brutal murder. The legislation responds to these resounding calls for change by offering provisions that would revolutionize the military’s response to missing servicemembers and reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault by making sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and moving prosecution decisions of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases out of the chain of command. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate today. This morning, following a meeting with the Guillén family, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a commitment to hold a House floor vote on the I am Vanessa Guillén Act. President Trump previously announced his support for the bill during a White House meeting with the Guillén family.
SPC Guillén’s disappearance and brutal murder became the catalyst for long overdue change when her family refused to let her case be neglected by Army leadership at Fort Hood. The Guillén family supports the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, and Chair Speier is also leading a congressional delegation this weekend to Fort Hood to further investigate matters at the base and speak with servicemembers at all levels about their experiences and how best to accelerate the cultural change that is so urgently needed.
Specifically, the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would:
-Move prosecution decisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases outside of the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor within each military service;
-Create a standalone military offense for sexual harassment;
-Establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused;
-Create a confidential reporting process for sexual harassment that is integrated with DoD’s Catch a Serial Offender database;
-Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the military’s procedures for finding missing servicemembers and compare with procedures used by civilian law enforcement and best practices;
-Require both DoD and GAO to conduct separate evaluations of the military services’ Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs; and
-Establish a process by which servicemembers can make claims for negligence and seek compensatory damages against DoD in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
“Military leadership has repeatedly failed to reduce sexual harassment, sexual assault, and violent crime at Fort Hood, one of the worst sites for attacks according to Army officials, and throughout the armed forces,” Chair Speier said. “The endless cycle of harassment, assault, and retaliation for those who speak out reveals the deep roots of a toxic culture we must eradicate so that survivors are taken seriously and treated with respect, and assailants are held accountable. The I Am Vanessa Guillén Actwould do this by providing survivors independent investigations for both sexual harassment and sexual assault reports and independent charging decisions for courts-martial. It would also make sexual harassment a criminal offense in the military, helping get to the core of an issue that too often leads to violence and destroys careers, and lives. The Guillén family and legions of former and current servicemembers are demanding bold change. Congress must seize this moment and deliver on that demand for change by passing the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act.”
“The issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue – it’s an American issue,” Congressman Mullin said. “We must strengthen the military’s ability to protect its most important resource, which is the people who willingly sign-up to protect all Americans. The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act will also encourage survivors to come forward to report sexual assaults and sexual harassment and to provide justice. This is about protecting our men and women in uniform and I will keep fighting so no family has to go through what the Guillén family has gone through.”
“From the moment I started working with the Guillén family in May, I made it clear I would not stop until we found Vanessa and got justice in her name,” Congresswoman Garcia said. “The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act of 2020 is a transformative and comprehensive bill that will help save lives and give our soldiers an avenue to report sexual assault and harassment without fear – a lasting legacy in honor of Vanessa. I want the Guillén family to know that Congress, the Houston region, and the entire world stands with you and we won’t stop until we get justice for Vanessa.”
“First and foremost, my heart goes out to the Guillén family, no one should ever have to experience the pain they’ve experienced,” Congressman Carter said. “The men and women that selflessly serve our nation deserve to feel safe to report misconduct and feel confident that their issues will be fairly handled. There is absolutely no place for sexual misconduct in the United States military and we must take these steps to ensure that accountability is realized.”
“The unspeakable tragedy of Specialist Vanessa Guillén’s murder has shed new light and revealed to the American public the epidemic of unchecked sexual harassment and assault that too many service members have suffered,” Congresswoman Escobar said. “Specialist Guillén – and all servicemembers – deserve respect and justice, and it’s our obligation to protect those who bravely put their lives on the line for our country. We can’t continue the same approaches that have failed victims. Congress must respond to this moment of reckoning with new solutions to tackle this epidemic and pass the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act.”
“The tragedy that befell PFC Vanessa Guillén was horrific and reflects a growing problem in our Armed Forces. Our military members should never fear harassment or violence while defending our nation,” Congressman Olson said. “As a Navy veteran, I’m proud to support the I am Vanessa Guillen Act, which is an important step towards getting justice for PFC Guillén and other service members like her. It ensures there is a stand-alone military offense for sexual harassment and requires the GAO to review how our military processes missing service members in cases of suspected foul play compared to civilian law enforcement. By working together and demanding accountability, we can prevent the next tragedy. Our military must maintain higher standards and we will not be silent on this issue.”
“Year after year, we see an increase in reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military and the same statements from military leadership about how unacceptable they are. It’s far past time we take bold action to bring accountability to the system and give survivors support,” Congressman Cisneros said. “In the memory of Specialist Vanessa Guillén, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to make legislative fixes to protect our men and women in uniform. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the bipartisan I am Vanessa Guillén Act to provide the necessary support and resources for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military. Our servicemembers and military families deserve to have the peace of mind that they’ll be heard and treated with dignity and respect.”
“Ohio is home to thousands of active duty servicemembers who risk their lives for our nation, and in return, it’s our country’s obligation to ensure their safety,” Congressman Balderson said. “In honor of Vanessa Guillén, this legislation will take important steps to ensure survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military can tell their stories without retribution and seek the justice they deserve.”
“As a soldier, I remember going to basic training to learn everything from marksmanship to the chain of command. The military is supposed to train new recruits on the essential tasks of the job, but we still don’t do nearly enough to address sexual assault in the ranks. We need to make sure we are creating a system and culture of accountability in the military to protect our women and men in uniform. For too long, sexual assault and violence has gone unaddressed,” Congressman Crow said. “The military failed Vanessa Guillén but I refuse to let Congress fail her or her family. It is Congress that decides what kind of military we have and now it is Congress’ responsibility to step up and pass the I AM Vanessa Guillén to protect our women and men in uniform.”
“We must work to ensure what happened to Vanessa Guillén never happens again,” Congressman Hurd said.“The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act of 2020 will protect soldiers like Vanessa by ensuring independent investigations occur in assault and harassment cases. This will better safeguard our soldiers from retaliation and help prevent these atrocious acts from ever happening in the first place.”
“Vanessa Guillén’s story makes painfully clear the need for a better response to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military,” Senator Hirono said. The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act knocks down barriers to reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault and directly addresses the culture that protects the perpetrators of these crimes. It’s time to make a system that respects and protects survivors.”
The I Am Vanessa Guillén Actwill fundamentally reform reporting and investigation of sexual harassment in the military and transform prosecution of sexual harassment and assault by empowering an independent prosecutor, within each military service, to bring charges. The bill will also allow servicemembers who were sexually harassed or sexually assaulted to pursue monetary claims against DoD and will also require a comprehensive GAO review of the military’s sexual harassment and assault prevention and response programs, as well as the military’s procedures for responding to missing servicemembers.
A fact sheet and the text of the bill are attached to this press release.
My Last Breath by Suzie Caballero Turner, Gold Star Family
Ft. Hood tried to cover up 2 other deaths,
When Greg and Vanessa took their last breath.
Lying to the family, wouldn’t tell them the truth,
Hoping no one would ask, their story runs smooth…
But there is a group, Gold Star Families their name,
Who knew much better, Ft. Hood is the blame.
But this is much bigger than sexual assualt you see,
This is about soldiers killing him, them, and me,
About Heroes who once fought for us,
But when one dies, we can’t make a fuss.
Don’t get me wrong, sexual assault is a crime,
And those who commit it, better do the time,
But this situation is bigger you see…
It’s about lies told when they killed me.
Told my family I put a gun to my head,
But a soldier in arms is why I am dead,
My family knows better, you’re telling a lie,
They know for a fact, that’s not how I’d die.
A medical death, how quickly you lied,
Another soldier is the reason that I died,
His corruptive lifestyle, I didn’t agree,
So he thought he’d go on and silence me.
I’m only a Sgt, take orders from command,
What they tell me to do is out of my hands,
The mission they gave me, sounds dangerous to me,
Tried to talk to command, but they just disagree.
Now the mission’s over, just like it played in my head…
So they try to blame me, because we all end up dead…
It took them a month to find me and my car,
They didn’t realize that they took this too far,
Sending my phone signals to my home state,
Hoping my family will just take the bait,
While they decide what they’re going to say
About what happened to me when i died that day.
Suicide is what you tell my wife…
Multiple stab wounds from somebody’s knife
She knows me better, knows you’re telling a lie
She knows this isn’t the way I would die…
Commander and others like treating me bad,
So I finally stood up, only got them mad,
So now I am unresponsive, face down on my bed,
Another soldier in arms is why I am dead…
Healthy as ever, pass each PT test,
Taking care of me, doing my best,
All of a sudden, I fell on the floor,
All they tell my family, “She’s not breathing any more.”
Lie to my family, not medical death,
But a coward soldier who took my last breath.
These are just a few of the hundreds of deaths,
When our own fellow soldier took us from our last breath,
It wasn’t at war, not by the other country,
But one of our own who ended my life for me.
Higher command tries to diffuse the crime,
By making up a story and not doing the time.
Lying to the family, saying stories untrue,
Making families think there’s nothing they can do.
This needs to stop, too many have died!
Too many families to whom they’ve lied!
Now it’s time to make things right!
By telling the truth and letting us fight,
Fight for our loved ones who can no longer speak,
Because the truth is all we seek!
To demand the truth about their death,
And who made them take their last breath!
They deserve respect, justice, and closure too,
So quit being a coward and do what you’re supposed to do,
Start acting like the soldier you signed up to be
So families again, can believe in humanity!
Don’t get me wrong, we can’t blame them all,
We can’t expect all of Ft. Hood to fall,
For all the corrupt cowards who led a hero to death,
And watched him as he took his final breath.
This isn’t just happening on Ft. Hood you see,
This is happening within all military,
Some of these deaths are Marines, and Navy too,
Every military branch has got quite a few…
But just like the corrupt ones, not all of them are bad…
There are also some good ones who the corrupt ones make mad..
There are many true soldiers still left you see,
Who are doing what’s right, fighting for him, her, and me,
So don’t disrespect a true soldier in any way…
Because of what corruption may have played out today.
So weed out the cowards and take them away,
Throw them in a prison for taking our loved ones that day…
“Nearly two dozen major provisions offered by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, were adopted during consideration of the annual defense policy bill by the Armed Services Committee this week.”
Authorize a System of Military Court Protective Orders: Allowing military judges and magistrates to issue court protective orders compliant with the Violence Against Women Act. The new judicial orders provide better protection and enforceability for servicemembers and family members experiencing intimate partner violence.
Initiate a Sexual Assault Prosecution Pilot Program at the Military Service Academies: A 4-year test of a new Chief Prosecutor would demonstrate whether assigning charging decisions for sexual assault and other special victims’ crimes to an independent expert outside of the chain of command would increase the willingness of survivors to report and the ability of the military justice system to hold perpetrators accountable.
Establish a Special Inspector General for Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Armed Forces: A dedicated office to investigate underrepresentation of people of color among military officers and high-ranking enlisted servicemembers, racial disparities within the military justice system, and white supremacy among servicemembers.
Increase Representation of Women and People of Color in the Armed Services: The military would be required to establish specific goals to increase recruiting, accessions, and promotion of minorities and women, and to report to Congress on a plan to achieve these goals and their progress.
Address Bias by Anonymizing Candidates Before Military Promotion Boards: Redact all personally identifiable information, such as names and photographs, of servicemembers before promotion boards to remove the potential for conscious or unconscious bias.
Make Violent Extremism a Military Crime: A new article within the Uniform Code of Military Justice would bring greater consequences to servicemembers who perpetrate, plan, threaten, or conspire to commit violent acts with intent to intimidate or coerce a person or class of people, or the intent to impact government action or policy.
Track White Supremacy among Servicemembers: The military services would be required to improve tracking of white-supremacist and other extremist activity by servicemembers.
Establish a Military-Civilian Task Force on Domestic Violence: The task force would report to Congress with findings and recommendations to address intimate partner violence among servicemembers and military families, and DoD would be required to collect data on the prevalence of intimate partner violence.
Establish a Military-wide Safe-to-Report Policy: Clarify that servicemembers may report sexual assault without fear of being disciplined for related minor collateral misconduct such as drinking in the barracks.
Improve Coordination for Survivors of Sexual Trauma: Ensure a warm handoff for survivors when relocating between stations within the military or when separating from the military and transferring from service providers within DoD to resources within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Improve Oversight of Military Sexual Assault Investigations: Require DoD toreport to Congress all military sexual assault investigations that remain open more than 6 months along with the reasons for the delay.
Improve Oversight of Next Generation Body Armor: Require DoD to report on barriers to fielding next generation body armor that will provide better, gender-specific protection for military servicemembers.
Expand Child Care Options for Military Families: Address waiting lists, establish competitive pay for providers in high-cost areas, provide housing priority for military spouses that operate Family Care Centers, and expand the Financial Assistance Program to pay for in-home child care, such as by a nanny or au pair. Additionally, it requires 24-hour child care be provided on bases where servicemembers are required to work night shifts.
Improve Oversight of the Next Generation Interceptor Missile Defense Program: Require an independent cost estimate and two successful flight tests before buying.
Transparency of Contractor Ownership: Expand reporting requirements to identify the beneficial owner of contractors.
Strengthen Whistleblower Protections: Clarify that nondisclosure agreements do not prevent employees of government contractors and subcontractors from filing a whistleblower complaint.
Examine Equal Employment Opportunity: Require the Department of Defense to report on ways to improve the EEO process for DoD civilians.
Enact the Elijah Cummings Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination Act: Strengthen EEO protections and increase accountability for federal employees who are found to be responsible for discrimination.
Authorize Incentive Pay for Programming Proficiency: Develop a system to track coding language aptitude and proficiency by military servicemembers and DoD civilians and offer financial incentives for needed programming skills.
Investigate Suicide at Remote Military Installations: Require a Comptroller General report covering unique challenges of preventing suicide by military servicemembers and military family members at remote bases outside of the contiguous United States.
Examine Access to Contraception and Family Planning Education. Require DoD to issue a report on barriers experienced by servicemembers in accessing contraception and the status of implementation of new DoD requirements on reproductive health care, such as ensuring access to contraception for the full length of deployment.
“U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and I recently announced that we will offer the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. The Military Justice Improvement Act would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision over whether to prosecute them to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors.
Despite years of Congressional reforms, thousands of service members are raped and sexually assaulted every year. In many of those cases, the assailant is someone in the survivor’s own chain of command. Only a small fraction of the perpetrators are ever held accountable for their violent crimes. Last year, the Department of Defense announced a record number of sexual assaults reported by or against service members, and yet, less than 10 percent of cases considered for command action ever proceeded to trial. Worse yet, despite repeated efforts to stamp out the scourge of retaliation against military sexual assault survivors, the most recent Pentagon survey found that 64 percent of survivors say they have experienced some form of retaliation for reporting the crime. That figure is statistically unchanged from 2016.”
My heart is heavy with the news we heard today and I still hold out hope that it’s not real. I don’t want to give up the hope that you are still out there and we will find you, as a dedicated, motivated team. So many people care about you. And a lot of people stepped forward and said yes, it happened to me too. The silence was finally broken and now we know for a fact that the same military justice system that failed us failed you too. My heart is broken. The writing was on the wall at Fort Hood. Prior to your disappearance, a team of people fought for you and all the other service members praying none of you would go missing or die whether by your own hand or someone else’s, both failures of leadership. The retaliation is real and we’ve been concerned that if we don’t deal with hazing, bullying, sexual assault and domestic violence appropriately then other more violent behavior would follow and it has.
Ten years of research and the creation of a website dedicated to military crime backs Vanessa up and all the other brave veterans who spoke up and shared their stories of heartbreak and betrayal. Although your safety has been of the utmost priority, we witnessed a shift because of you and because of what’s been going on at Fort Hood. I am so thankful you said something to your mother so everyone would know that sexual harassment is at the beginning of the continuum of harm and if not stopped only escalates. It’s like watching your future attacker plot when to make his move and you know it’s coming but there’s no way to escape. And then it’s too late. I’m not sure how I am going to sleep tonight but please know you are in my thoughts and I pray we can continue searching for you tomorrow and that what we learned is not true.
I was disappointed with the media today and how this was handled. I was especially disappointed with the headlines that purposefully made assumptions. I pray that justice will be served, that Fort Hood cleans up its act, and that your experience changes the entire military justice system. If this had been treated like the missing persons case it was, I may not be so angry knowing this is business as usual for the military. They replace us just as quickly as we disappear. The callousness and lack of regard for our fellow human, including murder victims, is sickening and heart breaking. Vanessa, please know how much you mean to me and so many other thousands of people. You are making a huge impact. Sending so much love and comfort to your family at this time, and anyone else who is struggling with today’s news.
The bill named in Caserta’s honor would create “Brandon Act” reporting, making it easier for service members to seek mental health care anonymously
PO3 Brandon Caserta, U.S. Navy
WASHINGTON — Today, Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Teri and Patrick Caserta, parents of fallen United States Navy Petty Officer Third Class Brandon Caserta, announced the introduction of The Brandon Act.
The bill would allow service members to anonymously report and seek mental health treatment by using a safe word like “Brandon Act.” It is designed to protect service members who experience mental health emergencies that result from hazing, bullying, or any other issue. It would allow them to seek help anonymously and, if necessary, outside of the chain of command. The bill’s introduction comes on the second anniversary of Brandon Caserta’s death from suicide, which he said was prompted by bullying and hazing within his unit.
“Brandon had a smile that made everyone want to smile. He was a very charismatic and upbeat young man. He made everyone’s day better no matter what they were going through. Brandon has always helped everyone he could. The Brandon Act would do this for his fellow service members in his death,” Teri and Patrick Caserta said, “Brandon did not die in vain and his legacy for helping others will continue long after his death when The Brandon Act is passed.”
Rep. Seth Moulton said: “Brandon tragically lost his life because he wasn’t able to get support for his mental health—something we should provide every American, especially every American hero in uniform. This bill will ensure our service members can get help and have no fear of retaliation for doing so, as it’s the right thing to do. Although we’ll never get Brandon back, his legacy will be the lives of many more great Americans he saves through this bill, and I’m proud of his parents who have fought so hard to tell his story and make this change.”
Brandon Caserta died by suicide on June 25, 2018 on the flight line at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia. After his death, his parents and friends discovered six notes in which Brandon attributed his suicide to persistent hazing and bullying from some members and leaders of his Navy helicopter squadron.
The Brandon Act expands the existing law that regulates how service members are referred for mental health evaluations, in order to provide a confidential channel for service members to self-report mental health issues. The process would protect the anonymity of service members, similar to the restricted reporting option that protects victims of sexual assault.
Moulton made expanding mental health care and breaking the stigma around seeking help a top priority since disclosing last year that he is managing post traumatic stress from his service in Iraq as a United States Marine. In addition to The Brandon Act, Moulton has secured mandatory mental health check ups for service members who saw combat within 21 days of leaving the battlefield in the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act.
He also co-introduced, with fellow veteran Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which would make 9-8-8 the national number for mental health emergencies. The bill has passed in the Senate, and is one step away from a vote on the House floor. Yesterday, the FCC announced that it would issue a final rule on the designation of 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention hotline in mid-July.
A copy of The Brandon Act is available for download here.
A legislative summary for The Brandon Act is available for download here.
Read more from the original source on Rep. Seth Moulton’s website here.
“In August of 2012, Tony and Sue Bemis received the news no parent wants to hear. Their son, Chief Petty Officer John Keith Bemis had died by suicide. As they struggled to make sense of their loss, things didn’t add up. Seven years later, they still have questions about what exactly did happen to their son.” –CPO John Keith Bemis, Crimelines True Crime Podcast (December 22, 2019)
The Military Murder Podcast dropped their first three episodes on Veteran’s Day. The podcasts featured the homicide cases of Army Sgt. Stephen Schap, Canadian RAF Colonel Russell Williams, and Army MSG Timothy Hennis (currently on military death row with three other servicemembers). The Military Murder Podcast is the first of it’s kind and we are pleased that a true crime podcaster chose this particular subject. MJFA tracks homicide committed by active duty service members, their families, and veterans. It’s our belief if they are capable of murder, they are also capable of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, physical assault, animal abuse, and other felony crimes. It is our hope that the military will track these red flag crimes in a more efficient manner with civilian authorities so we can prevent the homicide from occurring and warn civilians of the dangers that lurk when a service member is discharged instead of prosecuted. Check out the Military Murder Podcast on your favorite podcast app. We love the Stitcher app because we can organize all our favorite podcasts in one place. And the Military Murder Podcast is definitely one of our favorites.