Rep. Judy Chu wants the military to finally get serious about ending hazing in the ranks.
The California Democrat, whose nephew committed suicide in Afghanistan five years ago after a hazing episode by fellow Marines, on Tuesday petitioned House defense leaders to include new anti-hazing initiatives in the upcoming defense authorization bill debate, saying that Pentagon leaders simply have not done enough to address the issue despite years of focus from Congress.
Her renewed criticism stems from a Government Accountability Office report released last month which found poor oversight and enforcement of those initiatives, and still-scattered data on the frequency of such crimes in the ranks.
"Today we have an independent analysis that found that the Defense Department's anti-hazing policies are not being implemented, training is unclear and tracking systems are highly divergent and underdeveloped," she told members of the House Armed Services Committee. "DoD is not aware to the extent of which hazing policies have been implemented."
To fix that, she wants an annual departmentwide report on how policies are being implemented, improved anti-hazing training for commanders through the services, and a clearer data collection plan so Congress can see if the actions are working.
If the ideas are included in the House draft of the annual defense policy bill — and committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, indicated he was supportive — it would be the fifth consecutive year that anti-hazing language has been highlighted by the House panel.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Earlier provisions included requiring that GAO report, which called current training efforts too broad and watered-down to be effective.
Defense Department officials have struggled to address the problem since details of Chu's nephew's death were made public about five years ago.
Three Marines were charged with humiliating and abusing Lance Cpl. Harry Lew as punishment for repeated warnings about falling asleep while on watch. Service officials said they made him perform pointless, repetitive tasks for hours in full battle gear, kicking and taunting him throughout the tasks.
Lew fatally shot himself shortly after the hazing session ended. One of the Marines was convicted in connection with the incident, and he served only a month in prison.
As she has almost every year during the committee's annual policy work discussions, Chu recounted the devastating effects her nephew's death had on her family and their faith in the military.
"Over the years, I have heard stories of other service members who experienced hazing so arduous it led to their deaths," she said. "Only when we have these changes in place can we truly begin to eliminate hazing in the military."
House lawmakers have already begun preliminary work on drafting the annual defense authorization bill, the typical legislative vehicle for setting military policy each year. House officials hope to finish their draft in late spring, while their Senate counterparts are aiming for early summer.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.