Last updated: March 10. 2014 9:33AM - 273 Views
Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist

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Did you know that sexual assault in the military is considered an occupational hazard? This was the ruling in the case of Cioca v. Rumsfeld (2011) where 28 service members who were victims of rape while on active duty filed a lawsuit against Secretaries of Defense Rumsfeld and Gates.

The case was dismissed stating that sexual assault is incident to service. This is an important piece of information because currently the Department of Veterans Affairs does not clearly define military sexual trauma as a service related disability.

Currently the veteran must submit “burden of proof” that the incident took place in order to have a chance at receiving benefits and the help they need and deserve. The Ruth Moore Act of 2013 goal is to make it easier for veteran sexual assault victims to receive service connected benefits and treatment for mental-health conditions linked to military sexual trauma. The bill was named after a woman who sought Veterans Affairs benefits for 23 years after being raped several times while serving in the Navy.

According to the Defense Department there were more than 26,000 cases of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in fiscal year 2012, which is a 37 percent increase from fiscal year 2011. Additionally, the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention Response Officer (SAPRO) briefing in March of 2012, reported that military sexual trauma is the leading cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among women veterans, while combat trauma is the leading cause of PTSD among men.

Military sexual assault is receiving a wide array of public discussion currently because of the new data posted this year that illustrates the problem as epidemic in proportion. Therefore in addition to the Ruth Moore Act there are two other pieces of legislation that are targeting sexual assault in the military.

• The Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 (S.967) aims to remove the chain of command from the prosecution of crimes punishable by a sentence of more than one year, preventing injustices related to military sexual assault and other forms of misconduct.

• The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act) H.R.1593 that would take the chain of command out of the oversight of military sexual assaults and instead create an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts.

In addition to these new pieces of legislation, in 2012 a documentary, “The Invisible War” was released that documents firsthand accounts of sexual assaults in the military, the court systems, and how the VA is handling the PTSD claims [www.tv.com/movies/the-invisible-war/watch/the-invisible-war-2560398/].

Brac update

The tug of war between the Pentagon and Congress about base closures might have gotten a little more interesting.

According to a story published Feb. 19 in the online defense magazine Breaking Defense, largely forgotten laws give the Defense Department authority to close facilities without the Base Realignment and Closure process — without DOD even getting permission from Congress.

Speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s winter conference in Huntsville, Ala., House Armed Services Committee staffer Vickie Plunkett said Wednesday that buried in Title 10 — the chapter of the U.S. Code that governs the Defense Department — is Section 2687, which, she said, “does give the services authority to do closures, and it only requires notification to Congress,” Breaking Defense reported.

If the Pentagon and the White House were willing to take the political risk, they could shut down facilities and dare a gridlocked Congress to undo it.

“It’s notification with time for Congress to act” before the closure is carried out, the magazine reported her saying. But, the veteran staffer went on — emphasizing her opinions were her own, not committee policy — “Congress is basically dysfunctional right now.

“The authorities only require notification. Take your chances,” she said to an eruption of laughter, “because it’s going to require us to get our act together to stop it.”

The Army has recommended to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress that a new round of BRAC is needed for 2017.

More than 350 installations have been closed in five BRAC rounds in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005. No one is suggesting that the Pentagon should try to slip something past Capitol Hill, Breaking Defense stressed. As a matter of constitutional law, any such actions need to be included in the annual budget, which has to be passed by Congress.

As a matter of practical politics, the military informs Congress when it lets go even a handful of arsenal or depot employees, even people fired for misconduct, because it just takes one angry person to call their congressman to bring all sorts of hell down on the Army’s head.

The Pentagon is in an even stronger position when it comes to the Army’s arsenals, the government-owned manufacturing facilities for military equipment. Section 4532 of Title 10 — portions of which predate the Civil War — is the Arsenal Act, which Plunkett pointed out contains this language: “The Secretary may abolish any United States arsenal that he considers unnecessary.”

And that’s not even the Secretary of Defense, because the Act was written before that job existed: It’s the Secretary of the Army. “The Secretary of the Army,” Plunkett emphasized “has unilateral authority — standing, statutory, Title 10 authority — to close arsenals. Unilateral. “Now the issue is,” she said, “will the services … take advantage of those statutes?”

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