Federal legislation honoring Houstonian Vanessa Guillen will be introduced on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Guillen was an army specialist at Fort Hood who was killed by a fellow soldier earlier this year. Before her disappearance and death, she complained to her family about sexual harassment on base.
The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act of 2020 has bipartisan support. The lead sponsors are U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK). Houston-area Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) and Congressman Pete Olson (TX-22), a Democrat and Republican, are co-sponsors.
The bill seeks to change how reports of sexual assault and harassment are dealt with in the military and how the military deals with missing service members. It would allow for an independent prosecutor to investigate cases of sexual violence and make sexual harassment and sexual assault a crime with the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Currently, sexual harassment is typically addressed through administrative sanctions.
Teelia Lowery, a retired Staff Sargeant with the U.S. Army, wishes the bill would have been law when she reported her harasser.
"When I made my complaint, I felt like the end result was me getting punished because he still remained in his position. He still remained my superior. He had the ability to get me promoted or demoted, and he pretty much like had my career in his hands " Lowery told FOX 26.
The harassment, she says, also happened while she was stationed at Fort Hood. She believes she got passed on a promotion as retaliation for her complaint.
This week, the Guillen family and their attorney, Natalie Khawam, are on Capitol Hill for the introduction of the bill. This while there is increased scrutiny of Fort Hood, and a congressional investigation launched into its chain of command.
So far this year, 28 soldiers have died on base.
"We cannot allow our soldiers to be in such an unsafe place. They are stationed there, they're not in war, they should not be dying at a base," Khawam said.
The most recent reported deaths were of two Navajo soldiers.