U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) today announced that the Senate Armed Services Committee has incorporated their proposals to strengthen military whistleblower protection laws to ensure that victims of sexual assault and other misconduct are protected from retaliation. Sen. Kaine, a member of the Armed Services Committee, successfully worked to have the whistleblower protections included during the committee's markup of an annual defense authorization bill this week.
The Warner/Kaine Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2013 seeks to improve overall protections for military men and women who report any type of misconduct. It allows more time for victims to report alleged retaliation, and would require more prompt investigations by the inspector general. The Warner/Kaine proposal also would make it easier for service members to adjust their military records to accurately reflect a confirmed case of retaliation.
The provisions included in the Senate Armed Services Committee markup extend whistleblower protections to witnesses as well as victims, and ensures action is taken both to provide corrective relief to victims of retaliation and to discipline those who retaliate. It also extends the current 60-day period to file a report to 180-days. Finally, it requires the service branches to support those with confirmed cases of retaliation by submitting their request to clean up their records to the Board for Military Correction of Records, rather than leaving that responsibility solely on victims to accomplish on their own.
"Creating a culture within the military which protects those who bring forth specific concerns about misconduct would represent a giant step forward in stopping the epidemic of sexual violence and other misconduct. Unfortunately, that culture does not appear to exist today," Sen. Warner said. "This legislation takes reasonable steps to strengthen and improve where, when and to whom victims and witnesses can report allegations of misconduct in order to access whistleblower protections from retaliation. I appreciate Sen. Kaine's successful effort to win committee support for these commonsense improvements. Now we need to get it through the Senate, through a conference with the House and to the President's desk."
"One of the main issues in combatting sexual assault is fear of reporting. The Department of Defense report that came out in April has some staggering numbers. For those who do report unwanted sexual contact, 62 percent say that they have experienced retaliation as a result. And for those who don't report -- we know about 7 of 8 don't report -- 47 percent of them don't report because of fear of retaliation," said Sen. Kaine. "I was pleased to work with my Armed Services Committee colleagues from both sides during the NDAA markup process to include these important whistleblower protections to increase reporting of unwanted sexual contact."
A Pentagon study released in May and based on a confidential survey sent to more than 100,000 active-duty service members, found as many as 26,000 members of the military experienced offenses ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault last year. However, fewer than 3,400 individuals reported the incidents. The Department of Defense concluded most victims did not step forward because they worried about retaliation and believed that reporting the alleged offense would negatively impact their military careers. Fully 62% of those who reported experiencing some form of sexual misconduct in 2012 said they also believed they experienced some form of retaliation.
A 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office documented systemic weaknesses in the current Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The GAO found that DoD inspectors general routinely failed to complete investigations in the 180-day time frame required by law. In fact, GAO estimated that 70% of the cases took longer than 180 days, with the average case requiring an astounding 450 days to process. GAO also found that only 19% of service members with an established case of retaliation chose to navigate the complicated bureaucratic process required to clean up their service records.