HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Lawmakers could forever change how cases of sexual misconduct are investigated by the U.S. military. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives contains several provisions which address the sensitive matter.
The NDAA calls on special prosecutors to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, not a soldier's chain of command.
The change is welcome news for the family of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen and military sexual trauma survivors. They've long said soldiers don't report abuse, fearful of retaliation. Guillen's family has long maintained she suffered sexual harassment before being killed by another soldier while in service to this nation.
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On Thursday, Guillen's sister Mayra and their family attorney, Natalie Khawam, spoke with ABC13 from Washington D.C. They've been relentless in their mission to create meaningful changes since the soldier's horrific murder at Fort Hood in April 2020. It's become a marathon of sorts, with countless meetings with influential lawmakers.
"We're pushing. It's been a long fight, but we're still going to be here," said Mayra. "Hopefully receive good news [Thursday night] regarding the bill."
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The duo has crisscrossed the country in their attempts to raise awareness about Guillen's story. Khawam said they feel good and optimistic that Congress will pass an NDAA with provisions that safeguard service members.
"Unfortunately, Vanessa Guillen's death was the impetus to create this movement," said Khawam. "To have everyone in alliance and agree ... that enough is enough. That's the last time that we want to hear about someone being afraid of reporting sexual harassment, sexual misconduct."
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Lucy Del Gaudio is the wellness program manager with The Pink Berets. The nonprofit is dedicated to helping service members and veterans suffering from invisible injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder and military sex trauma.
"This is something that many of us in the advocacy space have been asking for, for a multitude of years. When Guillen's case become so prevalent, it made it more impactful," said Del Gaudio. "It's a moment for us to really have this victory."
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Del Gaudio said for years, more than a decade, they've been asking leaders to make this change. She said Guillen's story has helped catapult this issue to the forefront.
"It's vital. It's urgent that it happens," said Del Gaudio. "This will protect us. This will protect the survivor."
If the House of Representatives passes the NDAA, the Senate must then pass their own version. Khawam is optimistic the Senate's version will include a provision that allows service members to file a claim against the government if they become a victim of sexual misconduct in the military.
The two bills would then need to be reconciled. A final vote would happen later this year.
For more on Vanessa Guillen's story, follow Steve Campion on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Vanessa Guillen's family welcomes lawmakers moves on military sexual misconduct investigations
The NDAA calls on special prosecutors to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, not a soldier's chain of command
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