Congress vows to watch Army response to Fort Hood violence

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Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy speaks about an investigation into Fort Hood, Texas at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Washington. The Army says it has fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, and ordered policy changes to address chronic leadership failures at the base that contributed to a widespread pattern of violence including murder, sexual assaults and harassment. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress pledged on Wednesday to deepen their investigations into sexual assault, harassment and other problems at Fort Hood, Texas, and explore legislation, zeroing in on what officials say are glaring deficiencies in the Army criminal investigations unit at the base.

A day after Army officials released an independent panel's report on chronic leadership failures and widespread violence at Fort Hood, lawmakers said they will ensure the Army makes long-delayed changes. They praised the five-member panel and the initial response of Army leaders, who on Tuesday fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers at the base.

“Red flags” have been ignored at the base for years, said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who leads the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel. She said she will hold Army leaders accountable as they move to address the failures.

Speier's panel and the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on national security, headed by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., are conducting their own investigations into the recent deaths of soldiers at Fort Hood, gathering thousands of pages of documents.

The investigations come after a year that saw as many as 28 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood die due to suicide, homicide or accidents, and included the bludgeoning death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen. Investigators say Guillen, 20, was killed by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who killed himself July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody.

Guillen was missing for more than two months before her remains were found. Her family has said Robinson sexually harassed her; the Army has said there is no evidence supporting that claim.

The independent panel found there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and harassment at the base. Panel members said in testimony before Speier's subcommittee that there was an alarming lack of knowledge about and confidence in the Army's sexual assault and harassment response and prevention program.

They said soldiers, particularly women, didn't know basic information about reporting incidents or what services there were to help them, and that female soldiers feared retaliation if they did file a report.