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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. DAVIS of California. I want to thank my colleagues on the committee for working together to bring forward a good bill. My thanks, of course, to Chairman Wilson and to the committee staff for working in a bipartisan manner.

The bill contains a multitude of provisions to address the issue of sexual assault; and while it may seem that this year Congress focused on sexual assault in the military, the reality is that this committee and its members have been working hard to address this issue, which demands our attention, for the last several years. This committee has, once again, put forward a number of proposals; but as much as we would wish that legislation alone will stop someone from committing a sexual act, we know that is not the case. It will also not stop the fear of retaliation, which prevents a number of servicemembers from reporting a sexual assault.

This problem and how we deal with it has to start and end with those who wear the uniform, but it is important that we provide them the tools they need to effectively change the system and, ultimately, the culture by holding perpetrators accountable and commanders and prosecutors to the highest standard. Whether through bystander intervention, command climates that do not tolerate or condone sexual harassment and innuendo, and appropriate prosecutions and command actions, our servicemembers are ultimately the change agents who need to step forward.

This bill also focuses on the dependents and families who have sacrificed so much as well and who have been the backbone of support for our servicemembers through over a decade of war. Military families also bear the scars of war, and many need help as well. I am pleased that the bill includes a number of provisions to support families, including a provision that seeks to track the number of dependents who have taken their own lives by suicide. While the number of suicides for Active Duty members has increased, we have heard anecdotal evidence that the same holds true for dependents, and the bill seeks to determine if the Services can begin to track these individuals as well so that we can determine the best course of action to also address this critical problem.

Included are several provisions to address issues within the Reserve components, including a requirement that members of the Reserve be provided at least 120 days' notification of their deployments. We have been in conflict for more than a decade, and it's time that the Services ensure that, when individuals and units are called to deploy or if their orders are canceled, they have adequate time to prepare.

I would like to mention, though, Mr. Chairman, that there is one provision which, I think, could adversely impact the morale, well-being, good order, and discipline of the force. It is a provision that extends protections to the actions and speech of servicemembers. In essence, this provision protects an individual who engages in hateful or discriminatory speech or action, and a commander may take action only when actual harm occurs.

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Mrs. DAVIS of California. So if this language becomes law, a servicemember could engage in such speech and action for as long as and as much as desired, and a commander could only act against the individual when, say, the first shot was taken. I don't believe that was the author's intent, but I do believe that the language as currently written could be made to be understood in that fashion.

While I have some concerns with the provisions in the bill, the overall bill provides many benefits to our troops and their families, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

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