Guillen bill set to reach Congress

A bill in honor of the late Vanessa Guillen is set to be introduced into Congress on Wednesday.

Of the two congressmen who represent Fort Hood, one supports a proposed bill aimed at allowing soldiers to file sexual assault and harassment claims to a third party outside of their chain of command, while the other indicated that he has reservations.

Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, supports a bill set to be introduced into the House of Representatives Wednesday in honor of the late Vanessa Guillen, a Fort Hood soldier who was killed earlier this year.

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, however, indicated that he had reservations and is asking questions about the bill.

“There is no question that we must get to the root problem of sexual assault and harassment in our military,” Williams said in a statement Tuesday. “I have reviewed the legislation introduced by Congresswoman Speier and Congressman Mullin and have some concerns, to which we are awaiting responses. There are currently two ongoing investigations into the handling of SPC Guillen’s murder, and I look forward to reviewing a thorough report on the findings so Congress can deliver legislation based on evidence, facts and data.”

According to a press release from Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s office, Carter and Garcia, along with Reps. Jackie Speier, D-California, Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, and other House members of both parties, will introduce the bipartisan “I Am Vanessa Guillen Act” in honor of Guillen Wednesday. They will be joined at a press conference by the Guillen family and their attorney.

“The bill responds to resounding calls for change by revolutionizing the military’s response to missing service members and reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault by making sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and moving prosecution decisions of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases out of the chain of command,” the release said.

Guillen, 20 at the time of her death, reported to family members that she was sexually harassed at Fort Hood prior to her disappearance and death earlier this year, which the Army is investigating. In another case, the body Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, was found on Aug. 25 in Temple. Fernandes had also reported being sexually assaulted prior to him leaving the base. Army investigators said that report was unsubstantiated.

In late August, the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee arrived at Fort Hood examine the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community to determine whether they reflect the Army’s commitment to safety, respect, inclusiveness, diversity, and freedom from sexual harassment.