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Bipartisan group of legislators introduces the Vanessa Guillen Military Justice Improvement Act

Posted at 7:20 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 20:20:54-04

Since the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, we have seen many pieces of legislation on the local and federal levels pushing for military reform.

Today, A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a new piece of legislation with a focus on the military justice system called the Vanessa Guillen Military Justice Improvement Act.

From the #IAMVanessaGuillen Act that stalled in Congress last year, to the updated version which was reintroduced just last month in the Senate, both acts allowing survivors of sexual harassment and assault to report outside of the chain of command. While the Military Justice Improvement Act has a similar structure to previous Guillen legislation, but its main demand to take nonmilitary crimes out of the chain of command.

Yet, on another trip to our nation's capitol, The Guillen family still demanding justice.

“Someone had to suffer in order for all of us to realize what was happening and that someone was Vanessa Guillen," said Lupe Guillen, Vanessa Guillen's younger sister. "Someone will always have to suffer for someone to care but that stops now, and it stops with us.”

The army announcing changes to the Criminal Investigations Command and improvements to the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program back in May. However the changes are not up to the Guillen family's standards.

“No matter how much development and funding the SHARP program receives, it's ineffective," said Lupe. "Law must be established, and that law is the Vanessa Guillen Military Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act."

This legislation is supported by District 17 LULAC president Analuisa Tapia, who has been fighting alongside the Guillen family since the beginning.

“That lets me know is that our legislators are listening to the voice of the people, and they're paying attention. And that they are feeling the pain of, of our communities," Tapia said.

According to Tapia, while there are still other issues that need to be addressed in the military like access to mental health and housing issues; change has to start somewhere.

"If there's any accountability, it needs to be held whether on the civilian side of the house, as much as the military side of the house, it needs to have a bridge," said Tapia.

“When we have a system that fails victims everyone is failed because everyone is a potential victim," said Republican Rep. Mike Turner from Ohio.

The bill allows the armed forces to still have control with military-specific crimes, but allows specially trained military prosecutors to handle everything else.

“We take out military specific crimes like going AWOL and we let the commanders handle that uniquely, but this bill is meant to solve the problem of injustice in the military justice system," said Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, a Democrat representing New York.

With previous legislation trying to address the way sexual assault and harassment is handled in the military failing in congress, what makes this go around different?

Rep Jackie Speier said this time, there is widespread bipartisan support.

"With 66 co-sponsors in the senate and broad bipartisan support in the house, we will pass this bill this year," Speier said. "The day I retraced Spc. Guillen's footsteps to the arms room last summer I vowed that day that her life would not be in vain."

This introduction of this act coming after the historic statement by the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III. Austin said he plans to work with Congress to amend the Uniform code of military justice to remove the prosecution of sexual assault and other related crimes outside the chain of command.

To read Austin's full statement click here.