The House women veterans caucus is demanding congressional hearings into the killing of Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen and broader inquiries into solutions to the military’s problem of sexual assault.
“For too long, sexual assault has been a shameful and unacceptable part of our military. As former service members, we have experienced and witnessed sexual harassment in our own careers and know firsthand that it is past time for serious change,” the women wrote in a letter to the leadership of both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees late Wednesday.
They are calling for the military oversight committees to schedule hearings.
“Our military members face countless threats when they choose to support and defend our country, including dangerous missions all over the world. And while this may be part of the job, threats, mistreatment, and sexual assault at the hands of fellow service members are not.”
The signees — Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Tusli Gabbard of Hawaii, all Democrats — said they are “deeply disturbed” by the lack of urgency displayed by military officials in Guillen’s case thus far, and want Congress to use public hearings to shine a light on that and other problems in the ranks.
Investigators say Guillen, a 20-year-old who had complained to family members about sexual harassment from fellow soldiers, was killed by Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, inside an armory on Fort Hood in April. Robinson hid her body off-post with the help of his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar.
Army officials did not discover her body until 70 days later, a timeline which critics have alleged shows that leadership was not focused or outraged by the case.
No motive has been released in connection with the crime. Aguilar is in jail awaiting trial on multiple charges related to the killing. Robinson killed himself when Army officials attempted to arrest him.
The House Armed Services Committee’s panel on personnel earlier on Wednesday held a hearing on the killing, the culture of Fort Hood and sexual harassment policies in the military.
But the four veterans said they want the entire committee — and its Senate counterpart — to discuss the issues with top military leaders, in the hopes of mandating reforms.
“It is far past time for Congress to fulfill its responsibility to our men and women in uniform and fix this broken system,” they wrote.
The women also voiced support in the letter for several provisions included in the annual defense authorization bill draft recently passed by the House connected to the issue of sex crimes in the military.
They include a pilot program at the military service academies to establish an independent prosecutor to handle those cases and a review of “bad paper” discharges to see whether whistleblowers and victims of sexual trauma were treated unfairly by military leaders (a provision authored by Gabbard).
Both committees scheduled hearings this week but face an uncertain timeline for the rest of the year.
Congress is tentatively scheduled to break for much of the next four months due to the fall elections. But leadership in both chambers have authorized some online hearings in recent weeks to make up for time lost due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions since March.
The four women veterans currently serving in the House are the most ever in the chamber’s history. Three women veterans also serve in the Senate: Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Martha McSally, R-Ariz.; and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
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.