In an open session of the Armed Services Committee National Defense Authorization Act markup today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine voted in favor of Senator Carl Levin's amendment to require an independent review by the next higher level of the chain of command in cases where a commander decides not to prosecute a sexual assault allegation. The proposal also addresses the issue of retaliation by making acts of retribution a crime and establishing a process to hold commanders accountable for failure to establish a climate in which victims can report such offenses without fear. The amendment passed 17 to 9. Kaine delivered the following remarks during the Armed Services meeting:
"One thing I feel very confident about sitting around this table is that everyone who is here, everyone who serves on this committee believes the victims. Believes the victims who have testified. Believes the victims who have been reported on in the surveys we have received. I do not think that distinguishes anyone on this committee from each other. The testimony has been harrowing. I was at the personnel subcommittee hearing and at the lengthy hearing last week. Every last member of this committee --Democratic and Republican -- believes the victims. We all believe that we have a major problem. We all believe that the problem of sexual misconduct is a stain on the military. And because it's a stain on the military, it is a stain on the nation. We're short on heroes right now and the military is as good as we get. And when our heroes have a problem like this - that is so serious - it's not just a stain on the military it's a stain on our country. A positive development is that there is also much agreement on this committee about a whole series of significant and major reforms that we need to take. And for that I give credit to all my colleagues but especially to the Personnel Subcommittee Chair Senator Gillibrand. We are agreeing, I believe, or poised to agree on a package of significant reforms to reporting, prevention, training, recruiting, anti-retaliation measures, investigation, prosecution, punishment, counseling, the provision of VA benefits and protection for whistleblowers. We are poised to agree to a whole series of what I think are significant reforms.
"There is only one major policy disagreement. And that policy disagreement is - should we remove from military command the decision to prosecute serious offenses. Remove that decision to prosecute serious offenses from the chain of command, and for two reasons I do not think we should and that's why I'm supporting the chairman's amendment.
"First, and this has been covered pretty significantly, I don't think removing this issue from the chain of command is the best way to fix the problem of sexual misconduct. I do not believe we are going to fix it by taking responsibility away from commanders. I think we need to give resources and tools to commanders. I think we need to force the chain of command to take this more seriously. We will not solve it by reducing their authority. We will solve it by increasing their authority and increasing our expectation. If we take this power away from the chain of command we send the message not just that you're doing a bad job -- we are sending that message with the package of amendments we are about to embrace -- we send a message, we have no confidence you can fix this. That's the message we send if we take it away from the chain of command. We have confidence in 12 years of war -- the longest period of war that our nation has ever been in. We've had confidence in them making decisions. we have confidence in the chain of command to two ongoing cultural changes -- the implementation of don't ask don't tell and the implementation of the recent decision to remove barriers to women serving in combat positions. We are counting on the chain of command in those incidents to change the culture. To send a signal of no confidence - we do not think you can get this right - I do not think is the right thing to do.
"Second, I support the chairman's amendment because I think it maintains the focus on the issue which is sexual misconduct. The proposal, pre-amendment, is to remove from the military chain of command the decision to initiate prosecution in all serious nonmilitary offenses. Murder, larceny, robbery, forgery, bad checks, arson, extortion, burglary, house breaking, perjury, fraud against the United States. The proposal is to remove from the chain of commend the decision to initiate prosecution in all of those offenses. Now there's very smart people around this table -- lawyers, prosecutors, those who have served in the military -- but however smart we are, we have not heard one bit of evidence to suggest that the chain of command is not capable of handling all those kinds of offenses that I've just gone through. We have heard ample evidence about sexual misconduct. We have heard no evidence that the chain of command can't handle these other serious offenses. And to act on the basis of no evidence and pull all of it out of the military chain of command we would lose the focus on the problem. The problem is sexual misconduct -- both of the criminal variety but also of hostile workplace, sexual discrimination -- we have got to solve all of it but we will only solve it if we keep the focus on what is the problem. And so for those two reasons we cannot fix this without the chain of command and we shouldn't try to fix problems that we have not yet heard exist. I support the Chairman's amendment."
In the wake of continuing reports of military sexual assault, Senator Kaine joined multiple measures aimed at combating the problem and highlighted his views on the issue in an opinion piece for the Virginian-Pilot. Recently, Kaine and Virginia's senior Senator Mark Warner, introduced the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which provides additional protections for those offering evidence of sexual assault and extends the statute of limitations for reporting such crimes. Kaine has also cosponsored legislation introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen aimed at changing the culture of the military through better hiring and employment practices of those who serve in Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Offices. In addition, Kaine is a cosponsor of legislation introduced by Senator Claire McCaskill to reform the Uniform Code of Military Justice in order to place limits and greater oversight on the ability of commanders to overrule sentences and findings of Courts-Martial. Finally, to improve support for survivors, Kaine has cosponsored the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to change the evidentiary standards for military sexual trauma survivors who file disability claims with the VA so they are on par with combat veterans suffering from similar conditions.