House Stops Short on Sexual Assault Reform

House Republicans set up a protracted battle with Senate Democrats Wednesday over major reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice to deal with the rash of sexual assaults in the ranks.

The House Subcommittee on Personnel unanimously approved to strip commanders of their current authority to overturn court martial verdicts but stopped short of the Senate’s plan to take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.

“It’s very important for commanders to have maximum authority” in dealing with court martial cases, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., the subcommittee’s chairman, said after the brief markup session on proposals for inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2014.

The House markup for the NDAA differed from legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and other Senate Democrats that would take away a unit commander’s discretion to convene and oversee courts martial and give that authority to experienced trial lawyers from the Judge Advocate General corps.

Wilson agreed with Senate sources who said the impasse on handling cases of sexual assault in the military would likely have to be dealt with by a conference committee of the Senate and House to reconcile separate versions of the NDAA.

“It will be a discussion I’m very happy to receive,” Wilson said.

The subcommittee markup would bar command authorities from dismissing or reducing a court martial verdict, and establish dishonorable discharge as the mandatory minimum sentence under the UCMJ for convictions of rape, sexual assault, and forcible sodomy.

On other personnel issues, the subcommittee rejected the Defense Department’s proposal to increase TRlCARE Prime enrollment fees and pharmacy co-pays, and to establish an enrollment fee for TRlCARE for Life and TRICARE Standard.

Wilson noted that Congress had turned back DOD’s attempts to raise TRICARE fees for the past two years.

“I find it difficult to understand the Department’s continued effort to increase fees,” he said.

The markup also supported current law allowing a 1.8 percent pay increase for the military, and called for a reduction in the number of general and flag officer billets by 24.

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