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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. TSONGAS. Mr. Chairman, this year's NDAA takes unprecedented steps to address a disturbing prevalence of sexual assault in the military, and I want to thank Chairman McKeon, Ranking Member Smith, Congressman Wilson, and Congresswoman Davis for including these provisions in the bill. I'd also like to thank my cochair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, Congressman Mike Turner.

In recent months, we have seen reports rise, military commanders and supervisors abuse their authority, and officers in charge of sexual assault prevention efforts allegedly commit the crimes they were sworn to stop. This is a systemic problem, and the NDAA takes real consequential actions in response.

This NDAA begins to reform the power of a military commander, the first major bipartisan effort in decades to make such a significant change on the command structure.

Commanders will no longer have the authority to dismiss court-martial convictions for serious offenses, including sexual assault, and are prohibited from reducing guilty findings for serious offenses. It makes sure that those who are convicted of sexual assault will, at a minimum, be dishonorably discharged or dismissed. And this bill continues our push to provide victims of sexual assault with access to legal counsel, which is a critical step in the process of creating an environment that encourages victims to report these crimes and in bringing those responsible to justice.

These, and others, are significant reforms that offer considerable momentum toward changing the deeply rooted and flawed culture that has allowed these crimes to pervade our Armed Forces. We are making progress, but there is a long way to go.

Last year's bill established a nine-member independent review panel to evaluate the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate sexual assault crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The members of this panel are just getting to work now, and their input, 1 year from now, will be invaluable in making sure that Congress continues its work to make the best reforms possible and end the scourge of sexual assault.

I look forward to continuing to work with many Members in both Chambers, the victims who have bravely come forward, and the committed military leaders who are all meaningfully contributing to this debate to ensure that this issue can never again be disregarded or ignored.

I also want to take a moment to highlight the important work that this bill advances to develop superior, lightweight body armor for our servicemembers. While the ceramic plates which our servicemembers insert into their tactical vests have always provided the requisite level of protection in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are unfortunately still too heavy and are causing an epidemic of musculoskeletal injuries among servicemembers, which the VA will be paying for over decades to come.

Last year, the NDAA contained language requiring the continued development of body armor systems for female servicemembers, as the legacy systems fit poorly.


Ms. TSONGAS. Lightweight body armor that hadn't been designed for female members put female soldiers at greater risk in the field. This year's bill requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a comprehensive R&D strategy for lightweight body armor to Congress. I believe this is an important step, and I thank Air and Land Subcommittee Chair Turner and Ranking Member Sanchez for their work on this matter.


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