November 21, 2013

Sens. Warner, Collins, Kaine & Grassley Introduce Legislation To Protect Military Whistleblowers

Military Whistleblower Protection Act will ensure victims of sexual assault and other misconduct are protected from retaliation

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced proposals today to strengthen military whistleblower protection laws to ensure those who are courageous enough to report sexual assault and other misconduct are not further victimized by retaliation.  The Military Whistleblower Protection Act is supported by over 50 good government, public health and veterans organizations, including the Service Women’s Action Network, the Project on Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project.

“I am proud to offer this bipartisan legislation to protect our military whistleblowers, who serve our country bravely and deserve our respect and protection,” Sen. Warner said. “Improving the military’s whistleblower system is an important step toward encouraging whistleblowers to report fraud, waste, and other misconduct, especially sexual assault. Our military men and women should trust that our justice system will protect them and provide an environment free of retaliation.” 

“Whistleblowers play a crucial role in Congressional efforts to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and to help ensure the effectiveness of government programs.  They provide crucial information that Congress needs to conduct proper oversight of the federal government,” said Sen. Collins.  “This amendment increases whistleblower protections for the military and encourages whistleblowers to report misconduct, especially as it relates to sexual assault. Our military men and women deserve a justice system that protects them while they serve our country.”

“To effectively combat sexual assault and other serious misconduct in the military, we must create an environment where whistleblowers feel comfortable coming forward with a complaint,” said Sen. Kaine.  “This legislation would work to increase reporting while protecting victims of sexual assault and other crimes from retaliation and would strengthen the Senate’s bipartisan efforts to tackle the serious and longstanding problem of sexual assault in the military."

“There’s plenty of evidence that military personnel have an unbelievably difficult time when blowing the whistle on misconduct, fraud or even sexual assault.  Too often, these complaints get tossed into the garbage for no good reason.  Retaliation seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  These are simple changes that can make a big difference for whistleblowers,” Sen. Grassley said.

"Better protections for those seeking to fix what’s wrong in our military will increase accountability for those who undermine our military readiness,” said Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy for the Project on Government Oversight. “With authentic protections for those who report wrongdoing, problems will more often be addressed as they arise, and many will be averted altogether. We are grateful for the leadership of these Senators in advancing much-needed protections for the brave service members who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse, importantly including sexual assault."

"At Service Women's Action Network, we've seen firsthand the devastating impacts of retaliation--personal, professional, or both--against survivors of military sexual assault," said Anu Bhagwati, Service Women's Action Network executive director and former Marine Corps captain. "The unfortunate truth is that our current Inspector General investigation process fails many. With this legislation, Senators Warner, Collins, Kaine and Grassley are leading the charge to strengthen Inspector General requirements to provide survivors with the relief they need and the justice they deserve."

The bipartisan Military Whistleblower Protection Act would extend whistleblower protections to witnesses as well as victims, and ensures action is taken both to provide corrective relief to victims of retaliation and to discipline those who retaliate. It also extends the current 60-day period to file a report to one year, bringing it more in line with other federal and contractor whistleblowers who have longer reporting periods—often up to three years to report misconduct. Finally, it requires the service branches to actively support those with confirmed cases of retaliation by submitting their request to clean up their records to the Board for Military Correction of Records, rather than leaving that responsibility solely on victims to accomplish on their own.

A Government Accountability Office audit reported that more than 60% of service members who reported sexual assaults in 2012 experienced retaliation, and less than 1% of whistleblowers who filed reprisal complaints obtained relief, and only 19% of those who the Inspector Generals’ certified had experienced retaliation ever got their records corrected.   Additionally, a Pentagon study released in May 2013 and based on a confidential survey sent to more than 100,000 active-duty service members,  found as many as 26,000 members of the military experienced offenses ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault last year. However, fewer than 3,400 individuals reported the incidents. The Department of Defense concluded most victims did not step forward because they worried about retaliation and believed that reporting the alleged offense would negatively impact their military careers.

A copy of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act is available here.