Kirsten Gillibrand tries to revive debate on military sex assault bill

A bill to address the sexual assault crisis in the military was blocked on Monday, but two days later, survivors of sexual assault in the military were back on Capitol Hill voicing their support for the effort. One of the legislative efforts to address the issue, put forward by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also has one more Republican supporter in the Senate -- Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Ks., the senator who blocked the bill on Monday.

To keep the issue alive, Gillibrand on Wednesday held a hearing on the relationship between military sexual assault, posttraumatic stress disorder and suicide.

"No matter where any one person falls in this debate, we can all agree that we must fully understand the long-term psychological toll on the survivors of sexual trauma in the military and the best practices for effective treatment," Gillibrand said, noting that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

Moran blocked votes Monday on Gillibrand's bill and other legislation tackling military sexual assault, insisting that the Senate also vote on sanctions against Iran -- a move that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to go along with.

By Tuesday evening, Gillibrand noted on Twitter that Moran has at least signed on to support her bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act. It now has 55 public supporters -- 60 senators are needed to get a bill in the Senate past a filibuster.

Gillibrand's proposal to take the decision to prosecute sexual assault crimes out of the military chain of command has split Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has offered an alternative bill that would leave that authority in place but make other reforms, such as stripping commanders' authority to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders.

The survivors who testified at Gillibrand's hearing Wednesday explained their support for her proposal.

"Reporting to the chain of command -- it's horrific," said retired Lance Cpl. Jeremiah J. Arbogast. "You know, it could be a perpetrator in your chain of command. It could be your direct supervisor. In my case, it was my previous supervisor."

Jessica Kenyon, former Army private, said, "Removing all judicial punishment decisions from the command will keep them clear of all repercussions, including to their command, their career, and their general morale of the unit.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., explained his opposition to the move, calling the role of the commander in dispensing military justice "essential."

"What the military is all about, it is the commander's problem, it is their responsibility, and we expect them to do their job," he said.