AUSTIN (KXAN) — A historic military reform bill, named in honor of a slain Fort Hood soldier, now heads to President Biden’s desk after clearing the Senate on Wednesday.
The #IAmVanessaGuillen Act, named after Fort Hood Army soldier Spf. Vanessa Guillen, was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. Once signed, it will transform how the military handles and prosecutes allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. These cases will now be turned over to independent military prosecutors and taken out of the chain of command — which critics say has led to bias and a fear of retaliation.
“This is a great accomplishment that we’ve fulfilled,” Vanessa’s sister Mayra said. “Finally, after almost a year-and-a-half of fighting for what’s right.”
On Twitter, Mayra wrote: “The loss of my sister created the biggest military law change in history.” She says it’s an “honor.”
“I strongly feel like God put her [Vanessa] here for this sole purpose,” said Mayra. “And she will now help all these victims who were suffering, are suffering, or will suffer in the future.”
Vanessa went missing and was later found murdered in 2020. Her family says she was sexually harassed but did not report that due to fear of retaliation. A report found Guillen reported being sexually harassed twice but leaders failed to take appropriate action and the allegations were not moved up the chain-of-command.
The new law will encourage more victims to come forward and take away that fear, supporters say. Her murder sparked the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen, which has been called the “military’s #MeToo movement.”
“It angers me personally to see all of that just keep happening to more and more victims that shared the hashtag,” said Mayra. “It wasn’t fair. We couldn’t just sit there and not do anything about it.”
The attorney for the Guillen family, Natalie Khawam, has been fighting alongside the family for change. In 2019, she helped pass a landmark military medical malpractice reform law.
“This is another monumental change in history for our military,” Khawam said in a text message. “I’m so proud to represent and fight for our [soldiers’] rights. We all won today!”
On Sept. 1, Texas’ Vanessa Guillen Act, went into effect. The state law sets up a sexual offense prevention and response program for the Texas Military Department, providing support for victims and sending accusations to the Texas Rangers for an independent investigation outside of the chain-of-command.