- The Washington Times
Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A key House committee next week will examine whether Fort Hood is in a full-blown “crisis” of sexual harassment and retaliation following the recent death of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen.

The House Armed Services Committee hearing, scheduled for July 29, will see top military officials come before Congress to answer questions about the “epidemic of fear” that critics say is prevalent at the Army post in Texas and may have contributed to Guillen’s slaying in April. 

Nate Galbreath, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, and Col. Patrick Wempe, U.S. Forces Army Command inspector general, are scheduled to testify.

The hearing is the latest effort by lawmakers to shed light on both Guillen’s death and the broader climate at the base. The 20-year-old Houston native’s body was found along a river near Fort Hood late last month, more than two months since she was first reported missing.

Investigators say she was killed by another enlisted soldier who later took his own life as law enforcement closed in.

Army officials have launched an investigation into the case and the events leading up to Guillen’s disappearance. That investigation includes a focus on whether she had been the victim of sexual harassment or assault, as some of her family members have said.

Prominent Democrats in Congress have seized on the case to publicly push for the Army — and the military as a whole — to make wholesale changes in its treatment of sexual harassment claims and to guarantee the safety of women in the armed forces.

“The United States military has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the young women and men that take an oath to defend our country. In Spc. Guillen’s case, the U.S. Army failed both Vanessa and her family,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia, Texas Democrat, said earlier this month. “There are still many questions left unanswered surrounding her disappearance and about how Fort Hood conducted its investigations. Congress must act to guarantee this never happens again to another soldier.”

The hearing also comes amid even broader questions about the circumstances in and around Fort Hood. At least seven soldiers reportedly have died on or near the base just this year, all from non-combat causes.

On Tuesday, the Army confirmed that Private Mejhor Morta, 26, of Pensacola Florida, was found unresponsive in the vicinity of Stillhouse Lake near the base. His death is under investigation, officials said.

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