U.S. House passes reforms on military sex assault investigations inspired by Vanessa Guillen

WASHINGTON (KTRK) -- Congressional leaders appear poised to pass historic reforms to the military justice system in a bipartisan fashion.

The changes are championed by Vanessa Guillen's family following their daughter's brutal killing on base at Fort Hood in April 2020.

Advocacy groups long sought these measures. They worked for years, even decades, gathering support among lawmakers. They credit the Guillen family's relentless push for change in helping them get over the finish line.

Vanessa Guillen's sister Mayra, along with their family attorney Natalie Khawam, spent months meeting with leaders one-on-one, demanding these changes. They shared Vanessa's heartbreaking story. Her family said she didn't report sexual harassment, fearful her chain of command would retaliate against her. Mayra Guillen said her family is celebrating a win and hope her sister's legacy will safeguard soldiers for years to come.

"This has been a very, long awaited moment for my family, for Natalie, and all the victims of sexual misconduct in the military. This is something really big that we're proud of all the work we've done. That my sister's death wasn't in vain. After all, we will be saving lives," said Mayra. "You finally see all the work is being paid off. We're here to continue working, and hopefully, changing more laws if that's something we can do."

Khawam wanted a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to allow service members the ability to sue if the military failed to protect them. That wasn't included in this year's legislation. She called the reforms historic and a proud moment in the fight to keep service members safe.

"To change the military system, which most people said was impossible, and that we could never do it, we've proven the impossible is possible," said Khawam. "The biggest mountain that we could move was moved. Right now, it's just about moving a little bit more. I think it's all do-able. I think our success will prove itself."

The lengthy set of reforms are contained with the NDAA's massive legislation.

According to U.S. Rep. Sylvia Gracia's office, the bill calls for the establishment of the Office of the Special Trial Counsel. It empowers them with conducting independent investigations into sexual misconduct cases. It also enables them to independently prosecute serious crimes such as murder, rape, and sexual assault. The legislation also criminalizes sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and requires independent investigators to look into the allegations.

"It's a win for the Guillen family. It's a win for all soldiers. It's a win for any little girl in America that's thinking of being in the military," said Garcia. "This is a big win. It's a win in the fight against a culture that's been entrenched for many years and a culture that's about control."

Garcia said she remains committed to building on these reforms in the future. She called them transformative and the biggest change in generations. She said the changes will soon allow service members the ability to report sexual misconduct without fear.

"It's a turning point for justice for Vanessa and all the victims," said Garcia. "I think it's a huge step forward, but we're not there yet. Just like anything else, we've got to start somewhere. We can build on it, session after session."

The U.S. House passed a military spending bill that includes historic reforms to how the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assault and harassment cases.

This is something the family of Vanessa Guillen has fought for since the army specialist from Houston was killed last year.

Investigators say she was killed by a fellow Fort Hood solider after she reported being harassed.

WATCH: Vanessa Guillen: Remember Her Name

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Houston Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen vanished on April 22, 2020 from Fort Hood. One year later, her family is sharing their grief, anger, and fight to force the most powerful military in the world to change.



The landmark agreement would strip military commanders of most of their authority to prosecute sexual assaults and a myriad of other criminal cases.

It's a move that Pentagon leaders, lawmakers and presidents have resisted for nearly a generation.

The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate, where it's expected to pass later this week.

It would then go to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

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