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

~ Bipartisan Military Whistleblower Protection Act will now go the President for his signature ~

WASHINGTON - Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA)  to strengthen military whistleblower protection laws to ensure those who report sexual assault and other misconduct are not further victimized by retaliation passed the Senate and will become law. The Military Whistleblower Protection Act was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on a bipartisan 85-14 vote and will now go to the President for his signature. The Military Whistleblower Protection Act is supported by over 50 good government, public health and veterans organizations, including the Service Women’s Action Network, and leading whistleblower protection organizations including the Project on Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project. 

“This legislation is an important first step toward better protecting our military men and women from misconduct, including sexual assault,” Sen. Warner said. “The Military Whistleblower Protection Act will encourage our service members to report fraud, waste and abuse and provide them with the retaliation-free working environment they deserve. Virginia has a strong military tradition and I am proud that this legislation will now become law."  

"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."

“With passage of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, victims and witnesses of sexual assault and other serious crimes will now be better protected from retaliation," said Sen. Kaine. “Too many incidents of sexual assault go unreported, and this bill works to change that by enhancing protections for whistleblowers and fostering a safer, more supportive environment for our service members. I was proud to sponsor this legislation and will continue to support measures that tackle the longstanding problem of sexual assault in the military." 

“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.  To make matters worse, retaliation seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  There’s a lot left to be done in this area, but inclusion of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act in the Defense Reauthorization is a good step forward for whistleblowers,” Sen. Grassley said. 

"Today, Congress finally upgraded the protections for the brave men and women who come forward to report waste, fraud, and abuse---including sexual assault---in the military,” said Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy for the Project on Government Oversight. “We sincerely thank Senators Warner, Collins, Kaine, and Grassley, as well as Representatives Speier and Coffman, for championing these critical reforms to increase accountability and readiness in the military. We look forward to working with them and their dedicated staff in the new year to ensure our troops have the protections they deserve in practice." 

“This is the first significant advance in military whistleblower rights since they were enacted in 1988, and it is long overdue,” said Government Accountability Project legal director Tom Devine.   “To date the Military Whistleblower Protection Act has created far more victims than it has helped.  Our work is not done, but this reform is a giant step toward parity with civilian employees who challenge fraud, waste and abuse.  All soldiers and citizens owe special thanks to  Senators Mark Warner (D.-Va.), Timothy Kaine (D.-Va.), Susan Collins (R.-Me) and Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa). These senators’ leadership led to the Christmas present of a responsible free speech breakthrough for troops, and badly-needed military accountability for all Americans.

"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 provide survivors with the relief they need and the justice they deserve." 

The bipartisan Military Whistleblower Protection Act expands 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. Additionally it speeds up the process and ensures accountability by compelling the Service Secretary to take action within 30 days of receiving a report from an Inspector General, and requires that the investigations are conducted by an Inspector General at least one organization higher that the individuals’ involved to prevent any conflicts of interest.  Finally, it requires the service branches to actively support those with confirmed cases of retaliation by ensuring that their military record is referred to the Board for Military Correction of Records and provides legal assistance to the victim, rather than the current policy of requiring victims to navigate that difficult process on their own.  

Too often, the fear of retaliation deters service members from coming forward.  This legislation addresses that and encourages those who witness or were subject to sexual and other offenses to speak up.  A Government Accountability Office audit reported that more than 60% of service members who reported sexual assaults in 2012 experienced retaliation.  Less than 1% of whistleblowers who filed reprisal complaints obtained relief, and only 19% of those whom 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.