Hagel to meet with brass Friday on sex assault review

WASHINGTON — Leaders from each of the armed services will brief Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday on the criteria they have used to screen out problem troops from serving as sexual assault counselors, recruiters and instructors, according to a Defense Department official.

The Army disqualified 588 soldiers after its review, while the Marine Corps found that all its Marines had passed muster. Hagel could require all the services to comply with a single standard, possibly the Army's approach or another one entirely, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because Hagel has not made a decision.

The meeting comes after USA TODAY reported on the results of the services' screening, which Hagel ordered last year in reaction to what the Pentagon referred to as a sexual assault crisis in the ranks.

USA TODAY found that the Army screened more than 20,000 soldiers serving as counselors, recruiters and instructors. The Navy announced Wednesday that it had disqualified 151 of 20,000 sailors surveyed after initially rejecting just five sailors. The Air Force disqualified two airmen.

"In May 2013, the secretary directed each service to review sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates and recruiters to ensure they meet applicable selection criteria and standards of conduct," Army Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement. "Each service has fully complied.

"During the review, some of the services identified additional personnel categories and screening criteria. The department is currently reviewing those additional categories and criteria and may provide additional guidance for the entire department. We will provide the final results of any additional screening."

Offenses that disqualified soldiers included sexual assault, child abuse or a number of less violent violations of the law, including reckless driving. The Army seeks to discharge 79 of the 588 disqualified soldiers.

Members of Congress, including Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., on the Armed Services Committee, have called on the services to rescreen troops and abide by a single, stringent standard for those in what the military calls "positions of trust."

Speier made that request in a letter to Hagel this week and amplified it in a speech on the House floor on Thursday. She chided the Pentagon for not being more transparent about its reviews, saying they came to light because USA TODAY had pushed for them.

"Choosing the wrong people for these positions of trust is a betrayal for our troops," she said.

The services have more than 25,000 uniformed and civilian advocates for victims of sexual assault. The National Organization for Victim Assistance, an independent, non-profit organization, began certifying them in 2012. The Navy says the majority of sailors it had disqualified lacked proper training or certification.

"Victims can be confident they have access to professional victim advocates and will be treated with dignity and respect throughout their recovery," Wilkinson said.


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