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U.S. Army leaders announced Wednesday that the service will soon require soldiers being considered for sexual-assault prevention jobs to undergo behavioral-health evaluations as a way of screening out potential sex offenders from these high-profile positions.
Army Secretary John McHugh told lawmakers he intends to sign "a directive by the close of business tomorrow that will … expand the records that we check to make sure that we understand the individual that we are picking to the greatest extent possible and that includes the conduct of a behavioral health examination, which right now is not done."
McHugh made the announcement during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Appropriations in response to the rising rate of sexual assaults and two high-profile cases in which the suspects were sexual assault prevention officials.
Air Force Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, branch chief of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, was arrested near a strip club on May 5 by Arlington County, Va., police after allegedly groping a woman.
The Army is investigating Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, on sexual assault allegations and allegedly forcing at least one woman into prostitution.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wanted to know how these types of individuals were hired for these jobs in the first place.
"It seemed to me it was like a throw-away position, just pick somebody to do this," she said during the May 22 Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing.
McHugh said he suspects that service record and availability are the only criteria commanders are using to fill these jobs.
One problem is that sexual-assault prevention positions do not fall under any military occupational specialty and lack any kind of career incentives, McHugh said.
There is "no reward to a soldier as there is in any other MOS or occupation in the Army for taking these assignments as a means by which to advanced their career, so we have to incentivize it -- not just to encourage commanders to pick their best but to ensure that soldiers who serve honorable and do what we expect of them will be recognized in appropriate ways."
McHugh has tasked the assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs to work with Army G1 to create new incentives for these jobs.
Sexual assault continues to be a problem that the Pentagon struggles to control. A recent Pentagon report said there were about 26,000 instances of sexual assault in the military in 2012. The figure represents a 35 percent increase from 2010.
President Obama met with Pentagon leaders and service chiefs at the White House May 16 to discuss what considers a threat to national security. Obama said everyone must be accountable in the chain of command, victims need to be empowered to come forward when assaulted, and perpetrators of sexual violence must be punished.
McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno sent out a letter "to all commanders just a few days ago saying that we are intending to hold them accountable" in the way they select individuals to sexual-assault prevention jobs, McHugh said.
One way to help commanders with this is to ensure they have the resources they need to conduct behavioral-health examinations as well as deeper criminal-record checks, McHugh said.
"We need to get behind the uniform to understand the kinds of people we are picking and not everyone is suited for every job in the Army and I believe that not everyone is suited to do this job," he said.