Benishek:Sexual assaults in the military ‘unconscionable’

MARQUETTE – U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, is hoping to eradicate the problem of sexual assault in the American armed forces, introducing a bill that would help victims report their abuser more easily.

“I’m a doctor. I’ve had to take care of patients that have suffered sexual trauma. This is something that affects you for your entire life. There’s not another day that goes by in your life that it’s not affecting you, so this is really serious,” Benishek said during a recent taping of Media Meet. “And why – my daughter is a veteran, she was in the Navy for five years – why should our veterans, our people in our armed forces have to deal with the fear of their colleagues assaulting them more than their (fear) of the enemy? That’s just not right.”

Media Meet airs on Public TV 13 today at 6:30 p.m., repeating at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The show can also be heard on Public Radio 90 at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, repeating at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

Benishek said the military has had decades to fix the problem.

His bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York City, would allow victims of sexual assault to report directly to the military justice system, rather than staying within their own chain of command.

“This is the way the Canadians do it, the British do it, the Israelis do it,” Benishek said. “How is this going to destroy our military for that to happen? You know what I mean? It’s not.”

In 2012, the Department of Defense estimated that roughly 85 percent of sexual assaults within the military went unreported. An estimated 26,000 assaults occurred last year.

“That’s unconscionable,” Benishek said. “This is a tragedy that needs to be fixed immediately. It’s an emergency. We shouldn’t be trusting the military to deal with this. I think this is a great opportunity for us to move forward. Unfortunately, we’ve had some push back by the military. It’s been a battle.”

Benishek also discussed his work as a sitting member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

“My joy about being in Congress is being on that committee because that bureaucracy of the (Veterans Administration) is so frustrating and this job gives me an opportunity to sort of attack that bureaucracy and make it more efficient and that isn’t easy to do,” Benishek said.

The bill, introduced in May, would inject more accountability into the VA, Benishek said, by requiring the VA secretary to determine who within the organization is responsible for fixing a public health or safety problem after the problem is identified by the Inspector General.

“It’s so frustrating to get somebody before you who will say, ‘OK, we’re going to take care of that in three years,'” Benishek said. “Well, you’ve been saying that for the last 30 years. Who is the person in charge of that? You can’t find that out.”

Benishek also touched on the debt ceiling and Michigan’s state of emergency with a propane shortage, encouraging anyone who feels they’ve been gouged when buying propane to contact his office.

He also briefly discussed the fall out of County Road 595, the confusion over the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, with President Barack Obama issuing 28 different executive orders changing the law after it was passed and the issue of the federal minimum wage.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal.net.