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Senate Panel Examines Defense Personnel, Sexual Assault Issues

On May 20, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing on the FY2010 Defense Authorization bill (as-yet-unnumbered).

Chair Ben Nelson (D-NE) questioned the panel of armed forces representatives regarding the prevalence of, and measures to address, sexual assault in the military. Lt. Gen. Ronald Coleman, deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, United States Marine Corps, noted that sexual assault is a serious issue for the Marine Corps and requires the development of “small unit leadership,” in which unit commanders play a critical role in identifying and preventing incidents of sexual assault. Lt. Gen. Coleman also noted that alcohol is involved “in about 95 percent of the cases [involving sexual assault].”

Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, deputy chief of staff G-1, United States Army, added that the Army has launched a “premiere” sexual assault prevention program that “empowers every soldier to recognize incidents…and intervene to prevent” sexual assault. He noted that the Army predicted a spike in the number of reported cases, given that sexual assault traditionally has been one of the most underreported crimes, but expects that the number will decline as the program continues.

Ranking Member Lindsay Graham (R-SC) followed up on the point raised by Lt. Gen. Coleman regarding the prevalence of alcohol in sexual assault cases. He noted that alcohol consumption is prohibited during active duty and asked if there was an overall problem of alcohol abuse throughout the ranks. Lt. Gen. Coleman responded that the incidents of sexual assault are fewer among individuals serving “in the theater,” where prohibitions on alcohol consumption are more stringent, as opposed to those serving at their home base.

Both Lt. Gen. Richard Newton, deputy chief of staff for Manpower and Personnel, United States Air Force, and Vice Admiral Mark Ferguson, III, chief of Naval Personnel, deputy chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education), United States Navy, echoed the need for support for the victims of sexual assault, education for the rank and file, and leadership to prevent sexual assault.

Representatives of The Military Coalition (TMC) and other organizations submitted joint testimony about several issues pertaining to military personnel and their families, including family readiness and support. “A fully funded, robust family readiness program continues to be crucial to overall readiness of our military, especially with the demands of frequent and extended deployments. Resource issues continue to plague basic installation support programs. At a time when families are dealing with increased deployments, they often are being asked to do without in other important areas. Availability of child care is a particular problem when so much of the force is deployed.” The Coalition recommended that the subcommittee, “Provide authorization and funding to accelerate increases in availability of child care to meet both active and Reserve Component requirements; direct DoD [Department of Defense] to report on the extent of reallocation of approved funding for support programs and the attendant impact on military families; and continue pressing the Defense Department to implement flexible spending accounts to enable active duty and Selected Reserve families to pay out-of-pocket dependent care and health care expenses with pre-tax dollars.”

The coalition also made recommendations with regard to paternity leave: “The Coalition is grateful for Congress’ action last year to provide 10 days of paternity leave to servicemembers who have or adopt a child. However, eligibility was restricted to members of the ‘armed forces’ rather than ‘uniformed services’. This had the effect of excluding eligibility for commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service and NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] Corps. The Coalition urges the subcommittee’s support for a technical correction to the paternity leave statute to ensure uniform applicability to all seven uniformed services.”

Captain Bradley J. Snyder, United States Army (Retired), past president of the Armed Forces Services Corporation, also testified.

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