Hagel meets with brass on sexual assault review

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met Friday with leaders of the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps to review their efforts to screen out potential predators and unqualified troops from their ranks of sexual assault counselors, victim advocates, recruiters and instructors, according to a Defense Department official.

Hagel was told how the services interpreted his May 2013 directive to review the records of troops serving in "positions of trust," said the official who is not authorized to speak about the internal deliberations. Hagel, who holds a weekly meeting on efforts to stamp out sexual assault, will decide whether the services need to abide by one standard that fits all of them.

The reviews have made news in recent weeks as the services have reported widely differing results of the more than 50,000 troops screened: The Army disqualified 588 soldiers and seeks to discharge 79 of them; the Navy removed 151 sailors and civilians from sensitive posts; the Air Force disqualified two civilians; and the Marine Corps disqualified nobody.

The first wave of reviews netted few troops unsuited to the jobs. The Army disqualified 55 soldiers, while the Navy found five sailors unit for the duty. A closer look by the Army — and an examination that expanded to include drill sergeants and other instructors — determined nearly 600 soldiers should be removed from the posts. The most serious offenses involved sexual and child abuse. Most of the disqualified soldiers had served as recruiters, according to the official.

The Navy revealed this week that more stringent standards disqualified 151 sailors and civilians. Most of the sailors were removed from their duties for lacking proper certification or training.

Late Thursday, the Air Force provided details on the two people it removed from sensitive posts after a second look at its personnel. Its initial review last year found that all of its airmen were qualified.

The new screening disqualified one civilian advocate for sexual assault victims because of a "domestic abuse issue," said Lt. Col. Jill Whitesell, an Air Force spokeswoman. An active-duty airman, who was no longer taking part in the program, was removed from the roster of victim advocates. Both people still work for the Air Force, Whitesell said.

Sexual assault in the military has prompted Congress to enact measures to hem in the authority of commanders in dealing with the cases in recent months. Although commanders retain the power to recommend the cases that go to trial, they no longer can toss out jury convictions.


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