Bill Would Boost Whistleblower Protections for Military Sexual Assault Victims
Sen. Barbara Boxer and her Democratic colleagues introduce a bill to strengthen protections for those who blow the whistle on military wrongdoing, waste, fraud and abuse — including sexual abuse.
In the wake of whistleblower and leak cases that have shaken the U.S. military and intelligence community, Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislation on Wednesday to protect military whistleblowers.
The bill from Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Edward Markey, D-Mass., as well as Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who introduced it in the House, would also carve out safeguards for a group not often associated with the term whistleblower: survivors of military sexual assault.
“Servicemembers who bravely speak out about wrongdoing or misconduct — especially sexual assault survivors — deserve to know that they will be protected from retaliation,” Boxer said in a release.
The “Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act” would bring the burden of proof in such cases in line with standards for other federal civilian employees, and enable Inspectors General to suspend punitive actions against a whistleblower. It also would reform military correction boards to help troops receive restitution for any retaliation.
Markey called whistleblowers “modern-day Paul Reveres.” The legislation’s sponsors said the original Military Whistleblower Protection Act, which Boxer authored in 1988, is in dire need of updating in a new era of leaks and the rapid expansion of the U.S. national security infrastructure.
As evidence, the lawmakers point to Government Accountability Office audits, which concluded that there were serious problems with whistleblower investigations conducted by Inspectors General for the military services and DoD itself. In 2014, those IGs closed 645 claims of retaliation — and only 26 claims, or less than 5 percent, were substantiated, indicating that it is too difficult for a whistleblower to prove that he or she has been punished.
“When the majority of whistleblowers report retaliation and the Pentagon’s processes fail to prevent it, it’s time to update the law,” Speier said in the release.
The military has touted slow but steady reductions of sexual assault in the ranks, but has also acknowledged failures to stop retaliation against victims who speak out. Pentagon data say 62 percent of the women who reported sexual assault in fiscal 2014 also reported perceiving some form of retaliation.
“We've learned that even the perception that those reporting, trying to prevent, or responding to an assault may be retaliated against may be retaliated against is a challenge for all of us,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week in his first address on the issue. “Sadly, for too many of those assaulted, the crime is made worse by how he or she is treated after the attack ... after they've reported it.”
Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also filed the bill as an amendment to the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. The committee is marking up its version Wednesday.