Congresswoman Niki Tsongas released the following statement reacting to President Barack Obama's announcement that he is giving military leaders one year to report on their progress in responding to the crime of military sexual assault. The President has asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to report back to him by Dec. 1, 2014.
(This week), the U.S. Senate passed the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes funding and sets policy for the Department of Defense. The House of Representatives approved the legislation last week, which will now head to the president's desk for his signature.
The bill contains numerous provisions coauthored by Massachusetts Third District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, including historic changes to combat sexual assault in the military. These changes are the result of bipartisan, bicameral efforts by Congresswoman Tsongas, D-MA, Congressman Mike Turner, R-OH, Senator Claire McCaskill, D-MO, and Senator Susan Collins, R-ME.
Tsongas is the only Massachusetts member of the House Armed Services Committee, serving as the top Democrat on the Subcommittee for Oversight and Investigations. She is also the co-chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, along with Rep. Turner.
Statement released by Congresswoman Niki Tsongas:
"I appreciate President Obama's leadership to address this deeply disturbing crisis and eradicate this crime from the ranks of our armed services. I also agree with the president that if substantial progress is not made, we must consider whatever it takes to protect those serving on our behalf. It will take continued cooperation and a forceful and comprehensive effort on the part of Congress, the White House and every branch of the military, from the top down to eliminate these horrific crimes.
"The provisions included in the fiscal 2014 NDAA that was approved by the United States Senate last night offer considerable momentum toward changing the deep-rooted and flawed culture that has allowed sexual assault crimes to pervade our armed forces for far too long.
"This legislation takes significant steps towards combating military sexual assault, making historic changes to commander authority by removing the ability to overturn a jury verdict. It mandates a dishonorable discharge for those convicted of sexual assault; ensures that every victim of military sexual assault gets an attorney; and it extends vital support services to members of the Coast Guard.
"This NDAA is necessary to support survivors and ensure the Pentagon continues important sexual assault prevention measures, such as the successful Special Victims Counsel program.
"I believe these significant changes are important, but our work is not done. This is a multifaceted challenge and we will continue to pursue meaningful and substantial reform aimed at eliminating sexual assault in the military. It is incumbent upon Congress and the White House to get this right, for the safety of our men and women in uniform and for the sake of national security. I look forward to having the White House as a continued partner."