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June 24, 2013

HOWEY: The nexus of military assault and suicide

(Continued)

A measure written by Walorski and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., strengthens military whistleblower protections by extending them to victims of sexual assault. The legislation requires an Inspector General investigation into reports of retaliation against people who bring forward claims of alleged rape or other forms of sexual misconduct.

The focus on the topic in Congress has intensified. Walorski's measure is part of the defense authorization bill that the House is considering. 

“This is a tough issue. This is an extremely sensitive issue,” Waloski said. “It's time for Congress to take a stand. It's time to eradicate this from the military.”

The reason that there are so few reports of sexual assault is the pervasive fear of workplace retaliation and abuse in the military, according to Walorski. She calls the situation “blatantly wrong.” 

As for solutions, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY., has written legislation that would prompt reporting of these crimes outside the chain of command. “That is under discussion at this point,” Donnelly said. “We are trying to make a determination on whether that step has to be taken.”

The other issue on Donnelly's radar is military suicide. He conducted a six-city Indiana fact-finding tour this month. What did he learn?

“That it cuts across all economic levels, all education levels and all different wars,” Donnelly said. “I sat with vets in American Legions across the state and they said, ‘Look, when I came home, I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt overwhelmed, I felt challenged, I felt I had nobody to talk to, that I had all these pressures creeping up on me.’”

Donnelly's first bill is the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2013, named after Farmland, Ind., native Jacob Sexton, who took his own life in 2009 in a Muncie movie theater. Sexton was an infantryman in the Indiana National Guard. 

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