The father of the killed Fort Hood soldier said the bill “will help save lives.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and a group of legislators introduced the bipartisan “I Am Vanessa Guillén” Act in honor of the late SPC Vanessa Guillén. The bill already has 73 co-sponsors from both parties and needs an additional 90 supporters before it moves onto the next step of approval. But legislators said that gathering the approval shouldn’t be an issue, since the initiative has support from both sides of the aisle.
The bill is an answer to resounding calls for reform in the way the military responds to missing service members, as well as reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It makes sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and moves prosecution decisions of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases out of the chain of command.
RELATED: The Fight for Justice for Vanessa Guillen Is Just Starting — and Her Family Is on the Front Lines
The Guillén family said from the beginning of Vanessa’s disappearance in April that she had been harassed at Fort Hood but was afraid to report the crimes because of fear of retaliation.
“The army at Fort Hood failed her,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) said at the press conference. “But in her name, we are making changes, so this never happens again.”
Rep. Garcia has been fighting on behalf of the Guillén family from the very beginning of the investigation. Over the summer, she led a rally on Capitol Hill, alongside the Guillén family and their attorney, Natalie Khawam. It was then that they first announced their work on the “I Am Vanessa Guillén” Act.
“The Guillén family has experienced unspeakable pain,” Rep. Garcia said. “Today, I want them to know that Congress and the rest of the world stand with you.”
Rep. Speier added on Wednesday that, once passed, the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act can take up to two years to get officially implemented. Still, she hopes the military makes those changes now.
The Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), said he had been working on similar legislation for years.
“We knew it would be an uphill battle,” Rep. Mullin said. “The problem is how [the military] prosecutes the crime. It took her family to say ‘We’re not going to be silent about this, we’re going to keep pushing,’ so the death of Vanessa wouldn’t go in vain.”
On July 29, Rep. Speier said these harassment and violence stories proved there was a “pernicious military culture.”
“The rates of sexual harassment have continuously increased,” Rep. Speier said. “The problem is only getting worse.”
This year, 11 service members have died under questionable circumstances at Fort Hood, and multiple investigations, both internal and independent, are underway.
These are the service members that have died since March:
- Mar. 1: Spc. Shelby Jones, 20, was shot and killed at a strip club near Fort Hood.
- Mar. 5: Spc. Christopher Sawyer, 29, was found unresponsive in his on-post residence.
- Mar. 14: Spc. Freddy Delacruz Jr., 23, was among three victims found dead of gunshot wounds at an off-base apartment complex.
- Apr. 22: Spc. Vanessa Guillén, 20, was reported missing after working in one of the regiment’s arms room. Her remains were found weeks later. A fellow soldier who was a suspect in her killing shot himself when confronted by local police.
- May 18: Pfc. Brandon Rosecrans, 27, was found dead from a gunshot wound near his burning Jeep, about 13 miles from the base.
- Jun. 19: Pvt. Gregory Morales, 24. His skeletal remains were found off base, and foul play is suspected.
- Jul. 17: Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 27. His body was found unresponsive by a group of fishermen in the vicinity of Stillhouse Lake. Drowning is suspected, but the investigation is ongoing.
- Aug. 2: Spc. Francisco Gilberto Hernandez-Vargas, 24. His body was recovered after a boating incident on Stillhouse Hollow Lake, which is 15 miles from Fort Hood.
- Aug. 13: Sgt. Bradley Moore, 36, died during a training exercise.
- Aug. 25: Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, found hanging from a tree in Temple, Texas after he had gone missing for a week.
- Sept. 2: Pvt. Corlton L. Chee, 25, died after collapsing during a training exercise.