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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand answers your questions on military sexual assault

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand answered your questions on military sexual assault as a part of’s new weekly Q&A program.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks on Capitol Hill on July 24, 2013. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks on Capitol Hill on July 24, 2013.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand answered your questions on military sexual assault as a part of’s new weekly Q&A program. The New York Democrat, sponsor of the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), appeared on Taking the Hill Sunday to discuss her proposal to remove the prosecution of sexual assault cases from the military's chain of command. Gillibrand took questions this week from the msnbc community.

Here are the highlights from the discussion: 

Gabriela Resto-Montero: Senator Gillibrand, you have fought to take sexual assault prosecutions out of the chain of command but the military has been resistant. Do you think this reform will be implemented?

Gillibrand: Yes, because after speaking with so many survivors, commanders, JAG officers, and veterans organizations – I have no doubt this fundamental reform is needed. Until we have a system that is independent and objective, and protects the rights of the victims and the accused, I do not believe we will solve this crisis. To me it’s not a question of whether this reform will happen - it’s just a matter of when. The coalition that has worked so hard to create a military justice system worthy of our brave men & women’s sacrifice is not going to go away.

Fred Orth: I suspect that a lot of this crime takes place in isolated environments. What can be done to preserve evidence, and survive the timeline, before getting the case into civil courts? I also worry about peer pressure within a non-social environment, such as a squad, company, or any other military unit. Action will require transfers, and how will the victim, and the non-guilty unit members, respond, mentality, to that reality, stress, pressure? Seems to me that fear, and the uncertain, may be the biggest things that the law still has to overcome.

Gillibrand: Fred, it’s important to note – this reform keeps these cases within the military justice system, they do not go to civilian courts. Our bill is carefully crafted to allow trained military lawyers outside of the chain of command of both the victim and the accused weigh the evidence and determine whether there should be a trial. I agree fear is one of the biggest reasons why there is such chronic underreporting – fear of retaliation for coming forward – and this bill will finally give survivors the confidence that justice is possible. This reform will hold commanders accountable.

Canhudso: How surprised were you about the lack of understanding about rape from your colleagues?

Gillibrand: I don’t believe it’s a lack of understanding about rape. We all share the same goal, we have a simply have a difference of opinion as to the required solution. If anything, I think it’s a misunderstanding of the systemic challenges that are currently leading to massive underreporting of sexual assaults and must be fixed. The time for incremental change is over, we need the transformational change needed to end this crisis after two decades of the military saying it has “zero tolerance” for sexual assaults. 

@nelsontim92: Has the Ryan-Murray budget deal made you more optimistic that bipartisan solutions to veterans issues can be reached?

Gillibrand: I think bipartisan solutions can always be reached when you start from a place of core common values. Sometimes it’s not about being a Democratic or Republican idea, just what is the right idea, and what is the right thing to do. I am proud that this bill has strong bipartisan support including Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Chuck Grassley among many others.

Diana Danis: What are the exact nature of the push backs from the balance of the Senate opposed to the MJIA? In order to effectively interact with our opposing senators, we need to know something about their argument that removal from the immediate chain of command is somehow directly linked to purported "good order and discipline." When there is sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape in the ranks, good order and discipline have already been impacted. TY

Gillibrand: I agree re: good order & discipline. Watch this video here when I expressed that exact view to the military brass. And please take a minute to read the myths vs facts about our bill on a full resource page we put together for lots of important info.

Susanne Bell: Is it possible to add an amendment to your bill that protects the MST survivors information when dealing with the VA. My idea is that we password protect MST information to therapist and Dr.'s that work with veterans only. The way it currently stands, anyone in the VA that works has access to that information when they get into your medical file online. Some of the information is personal and should be protected. I am MST survivor and want to see more done protecting our information only related to the trauma we endured. I think the technology is there and we should use it to protect MST veterans. I appreciate the work you have done. I was one of the women who did stand up while I was in the service and reported my rape. I got pushed out after I did that and commanders don't do the right things. I fought the VA for 25 years even with documentation clearly stating I was raped while serving because I reported they denied me over and over until last year this needs to change as well.

Gillibrand: Thank you for your service, Susanne. I will keep fighting to ensure that no other brave man or woman who wears the uniform has to go through a second betrayal like you did. I will look into your idea.

@JL_Chadbourne: Madam Senator, I'm an Iraqi Freedom Veteran and a survivor of my own "unusual incident" that occurred while I was deployed. While I'm relieved and excited to see someone FINALLY taking this issue seriously, what about those of us who have already been wronged by the military system? What about justice for those of us, whom like myself and thousands of others, reported crimes were denied, dismissed and/or even condoned by our "leaders?"

Gillibrand: JL, thank you for your service to our country. I have heard so many stories from people like yourself who wanted nothing more than to serve our country but were betrayed by the military justice system. In many cases, they wish they could still serve. It’s heartbreaking, that’s why we are fighting so hard to change the system so that a commanding officer doesn’t hold all the cards when a crime is reported. Please call my office if you want to discuss your case and how we can possibly help.