Defense

House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel is including changes to help sexual assault survivors in its portion of the annual defense policy bill, while leaving a broader fight on overhauling the military justice system to the full committee.

In a background call with reporters Tuesday previewing the personnel subcommittee's portion of the defense bill, aides said the panel would add a requirement that the military services notify sexual assault survivors of the outcome of any administration action taken against perpetrators.

The new bill would also require the Pentagon to produce a list of civilian victims service organizations that survivors can use if they need legal representation, health care or other services, aides said.

And it would require all administrative separation boards to have a legal officer as a recorder "so that it further protects the service members interests," aides said.

But the subcommittee's portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) does not touch the fight over whether commanders should be removed from the decision to prosecute sexual assault or other crimes, with aides saying they expect that to be addressed at the full committee level.

A debate over how broadly to reform the military justice system in an effort to tackle sexual assault has become a banner issue as lawmakers begin considering this year's NDAA.

On one side is the Pentagon and some top defense lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who support removing the decision to prosecute sexual assault and related crimes from the chain of command.

That position is a shift after years of resistance to any change in commanders' roles. But it still falls short of broader reforms being pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and a growing group of lawmakers in both parties.

Gillibrand and her supporters want to remove commanders from decisions on almost all major crimes, including sexual assault but also crimes such as murder.

The issue remains unsettled on the Senate side after the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced three competing proposals when it considered its version of the NDAA.

Beyond the military justice issues, House Armed Services Committee aides said Tuesday they similarly expect other hot-button personnel issues to wait for the full committee, including tackling extremism in the ranks and deciding whether to make women register for the draft.

The personnel subcommittee's portion of the bill would back a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops, in line with the Biden administration's budget request, aides said.

It would also follow the Biden administration end strength request exactly, aides said. The Biden administration requested 1,346,400 active-duty troops, a reduction of roughly 4,600 troops compared to this year.

The personnel subcommittee is scheduled to consider its portion of the bill Wednesday afternoon.

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