(CNN) — Nearly 600 soldiers have been disqualified from being Army sexual assault counselors, recruiters and drill sergeants for a variety of infractions that mean they cannot serve in those positions of “trust,” according to an Army official.
The 588 disqualifications come as the result of an internal review, conducted by the Army at the behest of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, that began last August.
The disqualifications were first reported by USA Today, which found that the troops involved were barred as a result of “infractions ranging from sexual assault to child abuse to drunken driving.”
This development came the same day a Senate Armed Services subcommittee held a hearing on the impact of sexual assaults in the military.
During that hearing, victims of sexual assault testified to the backlash they faced from fellow service members and commanders after coming forward and the difficulties they had in securing mental health counseling.
“Even years later,” said retired Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Arbogast, “the constant stigmatization, personal attacks, ostracism and PTSD was never ending. Choosing death was my way of taking responsibility for my circumstances.”
Arbogast survived a suicide attempt that left him paralyzed in his lower body. His attacker was discharged from the Marine Corps but did not receive any jail time.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is leading an effort to reform the way sexual assaults are addressed in the military and has proposed removing prosecutorial decision making out of the chain of command.
“If you listen to the survivors of sexual trauma and sexual assaults,” Gillibrand told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview Wednesday, “they will tell you what needs to be done is the decision making has to be taken out of the chain of command in order to create transparency and accountability and have that decision maker be objective.”
That proposal has met with resistance, notably from Gillibrand’s fellow Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who introduced a competing set of reforms.
Instances of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault increased by 36% in 2012, according to a report by the military’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. In that same time period, the number of incidents reported to commanders decreased to just 9.8%
During Wednesday’s hearing, Gillibrand, D-New York, contradicted a senior SAPRO adviser, Dr. Nathan Galbreath, who said the military has made progress encouraging greater reporting since that time.
“Please do not say we’re succeeding,” Gillibrand fired at Galbreath. “If eight out of 10 victims stay mum because they don’t believe justice is possible or they fear retaliation, we are failing eight out of 10 severely.”
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