WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo Counties) introduced the Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act, which would strengthen protections for military whistleblowers, including sexual assault survivors, and reform the appeals process to make it responsive to soldiers who have been wronged. Identical legislation is being introduced in the Senate by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-California), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts).

“Military whistleblower protections are meaningless unless they actually protect military whistleblowers,” said Speier. “When the majority of whistleblowers report retaliation and the Pentagon’s processes fail to prevent it, it’s time to update the law. We need to give DoD Inspectors General more authority and accountability, create a meaningful appeals process, and hold both retaliators and supervisors who are complicit responsible.”

The vast majority of military whistleblowers who report wrongdoing to Congress or the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) are subject to retaliation. Independent audits reveal that claims of retaliation are seldom investigated thoroughly or fairly, and proper redress for retaliation is rare. DoD IG substantiates an implausibly low number (1 percent) of the retaliation claims that it receives. And, once a claim is substantiated, the Boards of Correction for Military Records (BCMRs) that are supposed to correct improper actions taken against whistleblowers do not effectively review the cases presented to them.

The Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act would address this situation by strengthening protections for military whistleblowers. It would establish a “clear and convincing evidence” burden of proof in line with federal civilian whistleblower laws; give investigating IGs the authority to temporarily suspend negative personnel actions against whistleblowers; allow servicemembers to request a DoD IG review instead of a service IG review; require the DoD IG to develop standardized training and investigation procedures; require the investigating IG to recommend disciplinary actions against those guilty of retaliation; modify the definition of prohibited personnel actions; direct BCMRs to conduct evidentiary hearings on significant cases presenting factual discrepancies that cannot be resolved without witness testimony; instruct BCMRs to obtain relevant medical or personnel records if servicemembers make reasonable efforts but are still unable to obtain the records; require that, to the extent practicable, administrative judges serve as presiding officers of the BCMRs; and establish BCMR membership as a full-time position with a 5-year term limit.

“Servicemembers who bravely speak out about wrongdoing or misconduct—especially sexual assault survivors—deserve to know that they will be protected from retaliation,” said Senator Boxer. “This bill will help ensure that whistleblowers who experience reprisal receive justice and that retaliators are held accountable.”

“Whistleblowers in the military who so bravely step forward to shine a bright, necessary light on fraud, waste and sexual abuse often do so at great personal and professional risk,” said Senator Wyden. “That’s not right and it doesn’t serve the public interest. I believe servicemembers who blow the whistle need the strongest possible protections from retaliation, and that’s why I’m proud to work with Sens. Boxer and Markey on this important legislation.”

“Too often whistleblowers in the military who simply tell the truth end up risking their positions, or in terrible circumstances, even their own well-beings,” said Senator Markey. “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. I thank Senators Boxer and Wyden for their leadership on this issue and look forward to working with my colleagues to support whistleblowers who come forward when issues arise.”

The bill is supported by the Government Accountability Project (GAP), Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Protect Our Defenders (POD), Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Sunlight Foundation, Human Rights Watch, TechFreedom, Public Citizen, National Veterans Legal Services Program, National Whistleblowers Center, International Association of Whistleblowers, Whistleblower Support Fund, OpenTheGovernment.org, National Forum On Judicial Accountability, Federal Ethics Center, Liberty Coalition, National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayer Protection Alliance, American Library Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists.