**WATCH Senator Gillibrand’s opening remarks HERE**
Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, delivered opening remarks at the Personnel Subcommittee markup hearing of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its section of the FY20 NDAA earlier today, and the full Armed Services Committee is set to begin deliberation on the FY20 NDAA tomorrow.
In her opening remarks delivered at the Personnel Subcommittee markup hearing, Gillibrand criticized the Department of Defense’s inability to address sexual assault in the military. With recent reports showing a 50 percent increase of sexual assaults against women in the military, Gillibrand called on Congress to make a fundamental improvement to the military’s prevention of and response to sexual assaults by passing her Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). Gillibrand also highlighted legislative achievements included in the Personnel Subcommittee’s portion of the FY2020 NDAA that would support the nation’s service members, including authorizing a pay increase for service members, authorizing increased funding for the Supplemental Impact Aid program, and addressing substandard housing conditions for service members and their families.
Below are Senator Gillibrand’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Chairman Tillis.
Over the past several months, we have held a number of important and thoughtful hearings and roundtable sessions together. We’ve exercised oversight into the substandard privatized housing that many military families have had to endure, we’ve addressed the challenges faced by military spouses and families, and we are continuing to explore the best ideas to improve the Department’s prevention of, and response to, sexual assault within the ranks.
I must say that while I appreciate all the coordination with my colleagues and the hard work of the committee staff to produce some very good incremental improvements to the military justice system, the latest data from the Defense Department show a 50% increase in sexual assaults against women in the military. That should be a call to action for all of us.
Enough is enough. It has been five years since General Dempsey said the military would fix the sexual assault crisis – but that clearly has not happened. We have to do better. We need to finally pass the Military Justice Improvement Act, to take sexual assaults and other violent felonies out of the hands of commanders, and allow trained military lawyers to make legal decisions.
Mr. Chairman, I believe, on balance, that this markup is a good starting point for debate and discussion about how best to serve our men and women in uniform, and the civilian workforce that supports them.
In particular, I am pleased that the mark includes numerous provisions that advance the fight against sexual assault in the military.
Specifically, the Subcommittee mark:
- Recommends that duties of Special Victim Counsels and Victims Legal Counsels expressly include assisting survivors who experience retaliation for reporting sex-related offenses.
- It encourages victims of domestic violence and sex-related offenses to secure both military and civilian protection orders.
- Requires the DAC-IPAD to conduct a review of potential racial and ethnic bias in the military justice system.
- And it encourages military judges to give deference to sexual assault survivors who desire to testify at courts-martial sentencing proceedings.
The markup also includes other provisions that I strongly support, including:
- Authorizing funding to support a 3.1 percent pay raise for the troops.
- Authorizing $40 million dollars in Supplemental Impact Aid, and $10 million dollars for Impact Aid for Severely Disabled Military Children, matching last year’s authorization to address clusters of under-served disabled military children.
- It addresses a very burdensome effect of the 2017 tax law that harmed federal employees who are asked to relocate overseas to serve our government. Instead of keeping their moving allowance as tax-free, the Trump tax law made this allotment taxable income. I am glad that our bill this year will reimburse civilian employees for this tax burden and counteract this harmful effect.
- It requires military department boards for the correction of military records and discharge review boards to liberally review veterans’ claims to update their discharges or dismissals.
- It requires contraception coverage parity with the Affordable Care Act under the TRICARE Program.
- It directs the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study on the incidence of infertility among members of the Armed Forces.
- And it reduces extra housing payments that the Department is required to make to privatized housing contractors, which would allow the Services to use that funding to improve housing and incentivize better performance by contractors.
I will also say that I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the Administration’s budget did not include a pay raise for the civilian workforce. Private sector wages increased by over 3 percent this year, and by law, the civilian workforce should receive a 2.6 percent pay raise. The Subcommittee mark does not address this shortfall. We cannot hope to recruit and retain the nation’s best civilians if salaries don’t even keep pace with inflation, let alone private sector competition for the same talent. We cannot forget that the Department’s civilian workforce is also vitally important to our nation’s security.
I look forward to working with you, Chairman Tillis, here and at the full committee, to work toward a bill that will benefit our men and women in uniform and the civilians who support them.