Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, released the following statement today after the full Armed Services Committee passed its version of the annual defense bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Gillibrand included a series of measures authored by Senators McCaskill, Ayotte and Fischer aimed at strengthening protections for victims of military sexual assault, in addition to her own measure protecting sexual assault survivors’ mental health records to ensure that victims aren’t afraid to seek care because their records will likely be used in courts martial. Gillibrand also secured among others approval of measures ensuring critical care for military children with developmental disabilities, requiring the Department of Defense to develop a way to track military family suicides and a measure directing the services to create cyber career tracks.
The bill also reversed the Pentagon’s proposed cuts to military families’ commissary benefits and new TRICARE fees that were opposed by Gillibrand. The Senator will continue to work towards repealing other cuts to military personnel and their families included in the bill. The FY’15 NDAA will now head to the Senate floor for passage by the full Senate later this year.
“I want to thank Senator Graham for his hard work towards crafting a bipartisan proposal with me in our Personnel Subcommittee as the Ranking Member. With this bill, we continued to take steps forward in the battle against the scourge of sexual assaults in our military. In light of the fact legislation passed by Senators McCaskill, Ayotte and Fischer passed on the Senate floor this past March still awaits passage by the House of Representatives, we have included that proposal here, along with a badly needed new protection of survivors’ mental health records. I have already heard from one Special Victims Counsel who is advising survivors against seeking therapy because the records could be used against them during a trial. It is unacceptable for any servicemember to live in fear of seeking mental health treatment, especially with so many survivors struggling with PTSD, this is a practice that must be changed immediately.
“But I believe our work on this issue is still far from done until we have restored trust in the system by creating an independent and objective military justice system worthy of our servicemembers’ sacrifice. We need cases to move forward based solely on the evidence, and judged based on the merits, not political pressure or other non-legal considerations. Month after month we continue to see troubling new evidence of how much further we have to go to solve the problem of sexual assaults in our military. This is a debate for the entire Senate to have, so our bipartisan coalition will continue to work harder than ever in the coming year to strengthen our military because that is our duty, and we will continue to gather evidence and make the case to our colleagues.
“While I am pleased we were able to reverse some of the Pentagon’s proposed cuts to military personnel and their families that I opposed, I continue to have concerns about other proposals including shrinking housing allowances and increases to pharmacy co-pays because it preempts the findings of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission and because of the potential harm it might cause to our troops, retirees and their families – especially our lower enlisted troops. Our servicemembers and their families are our greatest assets and they should be treated as such by this Congress. And that’s one reason why we worked hard in this bill to require the Department to develop a plan to provide children of military families living with autism and other developmental disabilities access to the behavioral treatment they desperately need and deserve or explain why it cannot. It is simply wrong for any military family who sacrifices so much for our country to be denied essential services for their child living with autism and I will be carefully monitoring the Department’s efforts.”
The following is background information of Gillibrand-led highlights in the FY’15 NDAA:
Included McCaskill Bill and New Sexual Assault Measure Protecting Survivors’ Mental Health Records:
As part of her Personnel Subcommittee mark, Senator Gillibrand included provisions from S.1917, the Victims Protection Act of 2014, that was passed unanimously through the Senate earlier this year. This includes elimination of the “Good Soldier” defense during courts martial; allowing a victim to challenge their discharge or separation from service; review of a case by the chief prosecutor if there is a disagreement between trial counsel and the commander; and adds additional command climate assessments with regard to allegations of sexual assault and the response to the victim by other members of the command. The legislation also clarifies that all sexual assault provisions passed in the FY2014 NDAA and included in the FY15 NDAA apply to the military service academies, including the Coast Guard Academy.
Gillibrand also included language she wrote requiring a modification of the therapy records rule in the Military Rules of Evidence to ensure that victims aren’t afraid to seek care because their records will likely be used in courts martial. The modifications will require the military to either clarify or eliminate the current exception to the privilege when the admission or disclosure of a communication is constitutionally required.
Senator Gillibrand also included language requiring a biennial survey of Department of Defense civilians to solicit information on issues relating to sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination, and the climate within the Department of Defense. It also requires the Department to report back on the feasibility of establishing similar surveys for contractors and military dependents.
Worked to Prevent Changes to TRICARE, Severe Commissary Cuts for Military Families and Retirees
Gillibrand fought to prevent the consolidation of TRICARE, the military health care program for service members, their families, and military retirees. Senator also rejected severe cuts to commissary benefits that were proposed in the Pentagon’s 2015 budget. The Department of Defense proposed consolidating the TRICARE Standard, Extra, and Prime programs, while raising enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life beneficiaries. The Department also proposed reducing subsidies to many of the stateside commissaries, therefore raising costs for the consumers.
New Effort to Ensure Health Coverage, Long-Term Care For Military Children with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities
Gillibrand secured a provision that would require that the Department provide uniformed services families’ with health plans that provide adequate coverage for dependents living with autism and other developmental disabilities, or explain why it cannot. With many children being denied coverage for ABA or often receiving less than the prescribed treatment under current TRICARE policies, this measure would require TRICARE to provide coverage for behavioral health treatments, including applied behavior analysis (ABA), in their FY16 budget or report back to Congress on why they cannot cover this medically necessary treatment.
Gillibrand also fought for a provision that would protect long-term care for military children with disabilities, giving them the same access to care that non-military children currently have. Under this measure, any servicemember who invests in a Survivor Benefit Plan would be able to transfer their benefit to a Special Needs Trust. This trust would allow special needs children of deceased servicemembers to access funds for treatment without losing federal benefits that are critical to their care, such as Social Security Disability and Medicaid. This language is based on S.1076 the Disabled Military Child Protection Act of 2013 which was offered by Senator Gillibrand and Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC).
Tracking Military Family Suicides
In last year’s NDAA, Senator Gillibrand called on the Department to report about the feasibility of tracking the suicides of military families. In this NDAA, she calls on the Department to develop and implement a program to track, retain and analyze the deaths of military dependents.
Closing Cybersecurity Skills Gap – Recruit & Train Cyber Security Experts
In an effort to put the U.S. at the forefront against cyber attacks by recruiting and training cyber security experts for the Department of Defense, Gillibrand directed the services to help close the cybersecurity skills gap by examining ways to improve the recruiting and retention of cyber security professionals. Currently, there is no clear career track or incentive for both servicemembers and civilians to grow and progress in the cyber field.