Service members in pre-trial confinement for serious crimes – including rape, sexual assault and murder — would have their military pay and allowances suspended, under legislation introduced Monday.
Withheld money could end up going to the victim of the crime under the terms of the bill, HR 2777.
The Stop Pay for Violent Offenders Act is aimed at accused service members such as Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the suspect in the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, who has continued to receive his military pay while in custody. Hasan’s trial is now under way in Texas.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., said the fact Hasan still receives pay is “outrageous.” Griffin is an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has been a judge advocate since 1996. He worked in the White House during the George W. Bush presidency as a special assistant for political affairs.
Under the bill, military leaders would decide whether to suspend all or just part of pay and allowances during confinement. A waiver could be requested, but would have to be done within seven days.
The bill does not specifically address what would happen to the pay and allowances of a service member with a family that depended on it as the sole source of income, but this is one of the issues that could be covered by a waiver.
A statement from Griffin’s office said a waiver also could be used in instances when a service member can provide affidavits or other evidence to show they may have been falsely accused.
The bill allows, but does not require, a formal hearing to consider waiver requests.
If a service member is acquitted of charges, or if they are convicted but their sentence is commuted or suspended, they would receive full back pay and allowances. If they are convicted, the withheld pay would be provided to the victim or victims of the crime.
The fate of the bill is unclear. It was referred to the House Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for military criminal law. However, this committee generally wraps all of its legislation for the year into a single defense policy bill, which already has passed the committee and the full House of Representatives. The bill may sit until next year before getting serious attention.
A cosponsor, Rep Frank Wolf, R-Va., said withholding pay of service members in pre-trial confinement makes sense because similar rules already apply to federal law enforcement officers in similar situations.
“This bill would correct a huge oversight that has allowed military personnel charged with a serious crime to continue to receive their pay while awaiting trial,” Wolf said.
Former Army judge advocate Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said there is a sense of justice involved. “How can we justify the fact that the victims of the Fort Hood attack and their families are fighting to get the benefits they deserve, while taxpayers have paid Nidal Hassan almost $300,000 to sit in a jail cell? This is unconscionable.”