Editor's note: This story has been updated. It was first published March 13, 2017, at 9:49 a.m. EST.
WASHINGTON — A veterans group that's been critical of the White House is questioning why first lady Melania Trump, whose stated platform is fighting cyberbullying and was herself a victim of online abuse, has remained silent on the military's nude photo sharing scandal.
"We are waiting for our first lady to support our women in uniform against continued harassment," said Navy veteran Trina McDonald with the group Common Defense, which in a news release distributed Monday implored Melania Trump to "break her silence and speak up."
Neither the president nor the first lady has commented publicly on the photo scandal. The White House did not respond to several detailed questions from Military Times.
Both Congress and the Pentagon are hyper-focused on the issue, exposed in early March, and military criminal investigators are aggressively pursuing suspects alleged to have shared explicit photos of their female colleagues or advocated sexual violence and harassment. After first appearing localized to the Marines, the scandal now involves personnel from all of the military services.
Before the presidential election in November, Melania Trump vowed to make cyberbullying a priority during her time on the national stage. Her comments were focused on protecting youth from online harassment and making the internet a more civil environment for all Americans.
"We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other," she said in November. "We must find better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children, especially in social media."
A former model, Melania Trump was photographed nude for a French magazine during the 1990s. Those images resurfaced during the presidential campaign and were published by several media outlets in the U.S. and overseas, resulting in the proliferation online of unfounded rumors about her past. Last month, she settled a defamation lawsuitwith one blogger.
Though the president and first lady have, so far, remained quiet on the military's photo swapping scandal, it was the subject of a heated Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week on Capitol Hill. Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican and retired Army officer, described the affair as "a cultural problem, not just in our military, but society at large."
On Tuesday, she cast doubt on whether service members take time to familiarize themselves with Defense Department regulations governing social media use, and suggested a fresh approach to training is necessary in light of the military's high annual turnover. Many in Congress have indicated that military law may need to evolve so commanders can hold wrongdoers sufficiently accountable.
Ernst told Marine Corps leaders assembled for the hearing that personnel across Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines "need to know that the actions they take here at home and online can take away from the success of their brothers and their sisters in arms. ... We will be evaluating how to give you the right tools, the necessary tools to combat this issue."
Multiple veterans groups have condemned the photo scandal, calling it an embarrassment and a danger to military morale.
"It’s hard to imagine how someone in uniform could have so little respect for their colleagues and for their service that they would engage in this despicable campaign of cyber bullying," Vietnam Veterans of America National President John Rowan wrote in a statement on Saturday.
"We’re calling on the Department of Defense not only to focus on investigations of this behavior, but to make supporting victims as their number one priority in addressing this scandal."
The Pentagon has indicated that is precisely what it is doing. In an essay posted online last week, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Chief of Staff Allison Jaslow framed the issue as a leadership challenge, both within the military and the nation at large.
"Do [troops] have commanders and a commander in chief that tolerate language that objectifies women soldiers, sailors and Marines?" she asked. "Or do their leaders promote a culture that ensures everyone wearing the same uniform gets the same respect?"
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.