The US Army has implemented “63 of the 70” recommendations from the Fort Hood report released in December 2020 and “four of the six priority” Independent Review Commission recommendations to improve the military branch’s handling of sexual assault and harassment, Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo told lawmakers during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“The Army has already implemented 63 of the 70 Fort Hood recommendations and four of the six priority IRC recommendations assigned to the Army, including ensuring that survivors can access the help they need no matter who they ask,” Camarillo said.
The US Army has established its Office of the Special Trial Counsel, reporting directly to the secretary of the Army, Camarillo said. The Office of the Special Trial Counsel was a reform created in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which removes commanders from “decisions related to the prosecution of covered crimes,” including rape and sexual assault.
The US Army has certified and has in place 29 special trial counsels, Camarillo told lawmakers.
“We are implementing fundamental changes to our response system that directly address the lost confidence of survivors of these crimes. The Army has established its Office of Special Trial Counsel, reporting directly to the secretary of the Army which will prosecute sexual assault and several other violent offenses,” Camarillo added.
The Fort Hood investigation and resulting report were ordered after the death of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier, and several others on the base in 2020. The report found that the Army investigators tasked with reviewing complex crimes at Fort Hood were vastly inexperienced, overwhelmed and understaffed, resulting in failures to protect service members and their families.
Camarillo called Fort Hood “a line of demarcation for the Army.”
“Our efforts have shifted from a narrow focus on response to these crimes and compliance with related policies to a more balanced approach rooted in prevention, building positive command climates, and in detecting and acting on warning signs before damaging acts occur.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered an Independent Review Commission to provide the department with recommendations on how to tackle the problem of sexual assault and harassment within the military when he first took control of the department in January 2021. The IRC provided about 80 recommendations, and the Pentagon laid out a plan to adopt all of them in September 2021.
While the US Army has adopted most of the Fort Hood report’s recommendations and some of the top recommendations of the IRC, reports of sexual assault in the Army increased 25.6% from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2021, according to data on sexual assault in the military released earlier this month.
“The Army has made a serious commitment to change, but we are not done yet,” Camarillo added.