PORTLAND — With so many victims coming forward, and so much heartbreaking evidence of sexual assault and rape in the military, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Congress must take urgent action to address this epidemic of violence inflicted on women, and many men, in uniform.

These are not isolated cases; these are not cases of “he said, she said.” These are horrifying statistics that harm the credibility and mission of our military. There is a pattern of violence here that cannot be denied, one that subjects its victims to injustice, inaction, denial and retribution.

But now the silence has been broken. These brave victims have stepped forward to say, “No. Not again.” Given their courage, can our national leaders find the same strength to finally face the truth and demand a solution?

We believe the answer is yes. Now that this terrifying reality can no longer be ignored, urgent action must be taken.

We salute U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the new chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, for her promise to hold an important hearing on what she has labeled this “reprehensible problem.”

Sen. Gillibrand has vowed to find solutions, telling the media: “We have 19,000 sexual assaults a year happening – and only a small handful of perpetrators being prosecuted and discharged.

“The committee not only can shine a light on military sexual trauma, more importantly we want to develop a response to reduce and eliminate whatever level of tolerance there is for this type of behavior.”

We agree. And like Sen. Gillibrand, we insist that real action be made to give the victims of this violence some sense of closure and prevent future harm.

An issue often overlooked is how to fairly compensate the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have suffered the consequences of sexual assault and rape. Many have had their lives ruined. Many are haunted by their experiences and can no longer make a living due to related injuries of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other debilitating illnesses.

With nowhere else to turn for help, these victims often come to us as a last resort. They come for some kind of resolution, for closure, for help.

We are here, then, to bear witness to their plight.

Some of these veterans call us from homeless shelters; others phone from cars that have become their homes. Some send us handwritten notes because they don’t have access to a computer. Others are driven to endless research, searching the global Internet for support and validation. Each individual story is gut-wrenching.

This is wrong. This is immoral. This is unjust.

This is not the way America should treat its warriors.

What these veterans seek, and what we intend to bring them, is acknowledgement, justice and reform.

Our fights are just beginning in the courts around this country, and we believe a tsunami of claims is imminent as judges awaken to their duty and power to provide a remedy to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms and democratic form of government and then been ignored.

We must develop a strategy to redress the wrongs that have been done to these soldiers, sailors and marines.

Surely we can figure out a way to provide some modicum of relief to these injured veterans – our children, sisters, brothers, neighbors and friends.

We urge Secretary Hagel, Sen. Gillibrand and Congress to do a few simple things:

Issue a public apology to those who have been harmed.

Make an appropriation to allow some redress of the financial hardships that have been shouldered.

Establish a claims process without delay for eligible veterans who have been raped, sexually assaulted or subjected to other forms of violence.

This three-pronged remedy is not unique, nor is it unrealistic. The same model is being used to redress discrimination inflicted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on black, Hispanic and women farmers.  

This remedy will avoid endless courtroom battles for these veterans, who honestly have endured enough battlefields for a lifetime. Let’s not make them fight again at home.

We cannot give back what was brutally taken from the veterans raped and assaulted while serving this nation. But we can apologize for what they have lived through, and we can make a deserved gesture of compensation.

Money will help these veterans get the care, education, housing and stability they need and deserve. A public apology and acknowledgement will validate their plight. And more: It will salute their bravery in coming forward with their stories, and it will serve to speed much-needed reforms to our military justice system.

Our veterans deserve no less.


– Special to the Press Herald