Senators Barbara Boxer (D–CA), Ron Wyden (D–OR), and Ed Markey (D–MA) have introduced a new piece of legislation, the Legal Justice For Servicemembers Act ("LJSA"), to revamp protections for military whistleblowers. In addition to protecting military personnel who expose fraud and abuses of power within the armed forces, the bill's protections extend to victims of sexual assault and harassment—many of whom experience institutional backlash for exposing their attacker. The Senators who drafted the bill sought to offer greater protections for those survivors of military sexual assault.
In a statement concerning the LJSA, Senator Boxer said, "Servicemembers who bravely speak out about wrongdoing or misconduct – especially sexual assault survivors – deserve to know that they will be protected from retaliation." She further stated, "This bill will help ensure that whistleblowers who experience reprisal receive justice and that retaliators are held accountable."
Servicemembers who experience retaliation for shining a light on misconduct meet long delays and inconsistent enforcement according to the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional watchdog agency. The GAO recently published a report in which it analyzed over 100 military whistleblower retaliation and reprisal cases, the results of which are expected to draw criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. One official connected to the drafting of the report said, "The report raises questions about whether uniformed personnel are getting fair treatment and whether the [Pentagon's] inspector general's office can be trusted to resolve these cases." According to the report, the average time it takes to complete an investigation into a retaliatory complaint is 500 days, nearly three times longer than the legally required 180 days for completion.
Senator Charles Grassley (R–IA) believes that "[t]his is a serious management failure." Further stating, "It appears that the Pentagon inspector general's office doesn't seem to care about following the requirements in the law on whistleblowers or care about the treatment of whistleblowers, period."
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) made statements criticizing the Pentagon's handling of military reprisal cases, declaring, "Military whistleblowers who are brave enough to come forward deserve better than what's detailed in this report. I'm disappointed by the failure of the Department of Defense's independent inspector general to ensure that these whistleblowers are protected from retaliation and reprisal."
Over 800 military personnel were awaiting a resolution in their cases as of September of last year; over 150 of those have been on hold since 2012.
The Senators who drafted the bill noted that during the 2014 fiscal year, the Defense Department inspector general, in addition to inspectors general from all other military branches, closed 645 whistleblower reprisal cases, and 26 of those cases, or less than 5 percent, were substantiated. The substantiation rate for private sector whistleblower cases is alleged to be as much as three times higher.
Senator Markey (D–MA) , one of the bills drafters said, "We must do everything we can to ensure whistleblowers, especially those shining a light on the devastation of sexual assault, are protected and are not subjected to harassment or retaliation for serving as modern-day Paul Reveres."
The LJSA would do much to remedy the systemic problems that currently plague the military justice system, particularly in the area of whistleblower retaliation and reprisal. The bill gives inspectors general within the individual military branches the authority to temporarily halt actions against whistleblowers if the actions are creating "significant hardship."