Obama sets one-year timeline for military sexual assault reforms

President Barack Obama is giving military leaders one year to improve the prevention and handling of sexual assault crimes in the armed forces.

In a statement released Friday, Obama lauded congressional leaders for highlighting the “scourge” of assault and including substantial reforms in the National Defense Authorization Act approved by the Senate late Thursday night.

“Today, I instructed Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey to continue their efforts to make substantial improvements with respect to sexual assault prevention and response, including to the military justice system,” Obama said. “I have also directed that they report back to me, with a full-scale review of their progress, by December 1, 2014. If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks and protect our brave service members who stand guard for us every day at home and around the world.”

The defense bill that is headed to the president’s desk prohibits commanders from overturning sexual assault convictions and creates other safeguards to aid victims. Those ideas were championed by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who lauded the president on Friday “for treating this scourge with the seriousness it deserves, and for fully backing the historic, comprehensive reforms we pushed across the finish line last night.”

“I agree with him that we should give these significant reforms the time they need to succeed,” McCaskill said. “And I too, plan to spend the next year holding commanders accountable, and ensuring that these historic reforms are implemented forcefully and effectively.”

But the defense bill does not include a proposal pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would have removed decisions about the prosecution of such cases from the military chain of command. Gillibrand’s proposal won the support of an unusual array of Democrats and conservative Republicans but was not brought up for a vote due to an impasse over the consideration of amendments. 

Gillibrand said that she spoke to the president on Thursday about the issue and vowed to keep fighting for a vote on her proposal. 

"I do not want to wait another year to enact the one reform survivors have asked for in removing commanders with no legal training and conflicts of interest from the decision of whether or not to prosecute a rape or sexual assault," she said in a statement. "We have the best fighting force in the world and they deserve a first class justice system. Nowhere in America do we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted or not, except the United States military."