Biden backs major reform to military's handling of sexual assault

Biden stated that he supports the change in a statement. He stated that sexual assault was an abuse of power, and an insult to our shared humanity. Sexual assault in the military is double-damaging because it destroys unity and cohesion, which is vital to the U.S. military's functioning and our national defense.The change has been resisted by the top military brass for many years. However, leaders recently admitted that the Pentagon has not made enough progress in combating sexual assault within the ranks and that more must be done.Austin instructed Pentagon officials to implement the panel's recommendations in a Friday memo. The Uniform Code of Military Justice was amended to allow commanders to be removed from prosecutions for sexual assaults, related crimes domestic violence and child abuse.According to the memo, Austin directed the department to establish dedicated offices within the services for the prosecution of special crimes. This would be done with the appropriate legal oversight and guidance of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.Austin instructed the service and department leaders to standardize non-judicial punishment within the services, to create a separate process to handle substantiated claims of sexual harassment and to professionalize military's sexual assault/harassment response force.Austin will continue to examine the entire scope of the panel's recommendations in the areas of prevention, unit climate, and victim services. He wrote this memo. However, they seem solid and well-grounded.According to the memo, the secretary directed Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Defense Secretary, to create an implementation roadmap within 60 days for him to review. This will include identifying the resources and authority required to make the necessary changes. After approving Hicks' proposed roadmap, the secretary directed Kathleen Hicks, the undersecretary for personnel and readiness, to work closely alongside the general counsel, military departments, and other components to ensure that his recommendations are implemented.Austin stated that our most important asset as a Department are our people. People and readiness are interdependent. Because we take better care of our people, we will continue to be the most powerful fighting force in the world. My expectations and values will remain the foundation of solving this problem. I am confident that my Force will achieve this goal.Austin had seen the announcement before it was made, and he stated in a statement that the changes were his support. Austin promised to work with Congress to implement reforms, but he did not position himself on legislation that would require independent lawyers to handle all major crimes.Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D.N.Y.), has enough support in the Senate for a bill mandating independent prosecutors to handle felonies that call for more than one year in prison. Some lawmakers and military leaders opposed this broad approach, saying that it would weaken the authority of commanders and reduce discipline within the ranks.A senior administration official said that Austin had spoken with Biden about these issues recently, and that the president supports his approach.A second senior administration official stated that the changes to UCMJ will not be enacted before 2023. They require congressional action. The Pentagon will continue to implement the other recommendations of the panel, which include improving the prevention and handling sexual harassment cases, improving unit climate, and the military's response to domestic violence.Officials argued that shifting legal decisions regarding prosecutions to independent prosecutors does not diminish commanders' roles.They are now responsible for taking care of their people, which is the top job of commanders. The commanders are key to improving the unit's climate, changing the culture, and protecting victims from any negative consequences for reporting sexual assault. In fact, they are key to making it safe to report the incident.Biden stated in his statement that there is more to be done about the issue."Today's announcement is only the beginning of our work. He stated that this will be one of the most important reforms to our military in recent history and that he was committed to delivering results. "Keeping our country safe must begin with ensuring the safety of all those who have volunteered to serve our country. Today's announcement is a significant and timely step in the right direction.