November 10, 2021

Gillibrand, Colleagues Introduce Bill To Fix Major Gaps In Law Burdening Victims Of Domestic Abuse By Service Members

Current Law Places Undue Burden on Survivors of Domestic Abuse, Making it Difficult to Access Transitional Compensation Benefits

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Rachel Booth Act to close gaps in the Defense Department’s Transitional Compensation (TC) program. Currently, dependents of service members are eligible to apply for transitional compensation to help them transition to financial independence if the service member has been discharged from the military for a domestic abuse offense. However, there are cases in which the service member is convicted of a domestic abuse offense in a civilian court, but is discharged from the military for a separate offense. In this case, current law places undue burden on the dependent by requiring them to request “exceptional eligibility” from the member’s service secretary to be awarded TC benefits, a process which can take as long as four years to be resolved. The Rachel Booth Act would fix this error by ensuring standard eligibility for dependents of service members who are convicted of domestic abuse in civilian court, even if they are separated from the military for another offense.

“Domestic abuse victims often suffer from financial abuse, especially when trying to break free from their abuser--transitional compensation is a lifeline for victims when they need it most,” said Senator Gillibrand. “While this funding exists for victims whose cases are handled by the military, victims whose cases go through civilian courts must request exceptional eligibility to receive these funds. The bipartisan Rachel Booth Act would streamline the program, cut through the red tape and get victims transitional funding when they need it. It is a commonsense solution to an urgent problem and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get it done."

This bill was named after Rachel Booth, a woman who found herself outside of the law and without her main source of financial support when her husband was convicted of domestic abuse in a civilian court and discharged from the military on an unrelated offense. In addition to fixing major gaps in the law for dependents of service members who have suffered from domestic abuse offenses, this bill would also allow the service secretaries to delegate the authority to grant TC to those seeking an “exceptional eligibility,” a fix which would significantly decrease the time in which these claims are decided.

Senator Gillibrand is the leading advocate for victims of sexual abuse and assault in the military and successfully included her bipartisan Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA) in the committee-passed Senate National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022. This bill would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision over whether to prosecute them to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors. Gillibrand first introduced her bill, then the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), to reform the military justice system in 2013. Click here for a full timeline outlining her legislative action fighting for military sexual assault reform in the Senate.