By\u00a0Reese Oxner\r\nOver a year after U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guill\u00e9n\u2019s death in Texas,\u00a0which spurred a movement against sexual assault and harassment in the military, federal lawmakers are renewing efforts to reform \u2014 and add external accountability to \u2014 the way the military deals with such behavior.\r\nGuill\u00e9n was 20 when she was bludgeoned to death. Her body was found mutilated and buried in a shallow grave. The Army recently confirmed that Guill\u00e9n reported sexual harassment twice by someone other than her alleged killer, but Army officials\u00a0failed to report the harassment further up the chain. Her family members say she was sexually harassed by multiple soldiers before she was killed.\r\nThe Houston native\u2019s killing spurred investigations both inside and outside the military that found a pattern of violence and abuse against soldiers at Fort Hood in Killeen, the U.S. military\u2019s largest active-duty base, where Guill\u00e9n was stationed.\r\nHer death also ignited widespread calls for military reform to end sexual harassment, sexual assault, and violence. And state and federal lawmakers began drafting bills targeting reform.\r\nIn Washington, D.C., the original federal bill bearing her name stalled last year in Congress. But lawmakers last month, armed with the hope of bipartisan support, introduced a new version of it\u00a0aimed at increasing accountability and justice within the military, titled the \u201cI Am Vanessa Guill\u00e9n Act of 2021.\u201d\r\n\u201cSexual violence is an epidemic in the military, has been for decades, we\u2019ve spent over a billion dollars trying to fix it within the framework of the existing system,\u201d said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., the bill\u2019s author. \u201cIt\u2019s a system that hasn\u2019t worked for a long time.\u201d\r\nCurrently, the military investigates and prosecutes these cases completely internally \u2014 which advocates say is burdened by a lack of expertise, bias, and weak punishments.\r\nMilitary commanders decide whether a case goes to trial or whether to handle it behind closed doors. Advocates say cases are underreported because soldiers fear retaliation or don\u2019t think they\u2019ll get justice \u2014 both of which exacerbate the problem.\r\nSpeier\u2019s bill would move legal decisions outside the military chain of command to a new outside office in order to add external accountability and would require the Secretary of Defense to establish a process so service members can lodge confidential complaints.\r\nThe bill would also explicitly list sexual harassment as a crime in the military law constitution, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The bill was referred to the Committee on Armed Services.\r\n\u201cIt took the horrific, grisly murder of Vanessa Guill\u00e9n for many to wake up, both in the military and outside the military \u2014 and the advocacy of a family just heartbroken from the loss of their loved one,\u201d Speier said.\r\nIn Austin this year, the Texas Legislature passed\u00a0Senate Bill 623 to similarly add outside accountability to the Texas Military Department, which oversees the Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Air National Guard, and the Texas State Guard.\r\nThat bill, titled the Vanessa Guill\u00e9n Act, would establish a sexual assault coordinator outside the chain of command to provide services and would send sexual assault cases to the Texas Rangers to be independently investigated.\r\n\u201cFrom personal experience as a veteran \u2026 there\u2019s a culture there in the stigma that disincentivizes the reporting of sexual assault or harassment,\u201d said state Sen.\u00a0C\u00e9sar J. Blanco, D-El Paso, who introduced SB 623. \u201cThe legislation is absolutely needed to protect service members and begin to change the military culture, and it\u2019s my hope that Congress passes it this year.\u201d\r\nThe Legislature also passed \u2014 and Gov.\u00a0Greg Abbott\u00a0has signed \u2014 a\u00a0resolution\u00a0urging federal lawmakers to pass the federal \u201cI Am Vanessa Guill\u00e9n Act of 2021.\u201d\r\nAfter Guill\u00e9n\u2019s death,\u00a0the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee \u2014 made up of civilians \u2014 created a report uncovering a pattern of sexual harassment and assault, and violence that has persisted for years\r\nIn response to Guill\u00e9n\u2019s death, 14 U.S. Army leaders, including commanders and other leaders at Fort Hood, were fired or suspended. But advocates say the problem is bigger than Fort Hood \u2014 that sexual harassment and assault are widespread throughout the military.\r\nThe Pentagon\u00a0reported\u00a0in 2019 that an estimated 20,500 service members experienced some form of sexual assault. That figure represents 13,000 women and 7,500 men and is 37% higher than was reported in 2017.\r\nInvestigators did not find \u201ccredible evidence\u201d that Spc. Aaron Robinson, the man accused of killing Guill\u00e9n, sexually harassed her or that the two had a relationship outside of their professional one, a\u00a0U.S. Army report\u00a0said. However, Robinson was reported for sexually harassing another female soldier. Robinson killed himself after being confronted by the police.\r\n\u201cI absolutely support [the federal bill],\u201d said Amy Franck, founder of Never Alone, an advocacy group working to end sexual harassment in the military. She said it\u2019s a good first step to reducing harm in the military and that \u201cprogress doesn\u2019t happen like a light switch.\u201d\r\nShe calls the current system allowing the military to investigate itself \u201cabsolute lawlessness\u201d and says the bill would make a drastic change to how these cases are dealt with.\r\n\u201cBut we still have got to address the fact that these service members\u2019 civil rights are being violated when they become victimized,\u201d she said.\r\nThe officials who deal with sexual assault cases within the military are ill equipped to help victims and often cause more harm, she said. Servicemen and women can be punished for inconsistencies in their accounts \u2014 despite suffering from trauma \u2014 and are sometimes encouraged to speak without an attorney present, leading to more fears of retaliation for reporting.\r\nThere isn\u2019t enough promotion of other resources available, such as the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a coalition of rape crisis centers.\r\nAnother congressional bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, aims to move cases outside the military\u2019s chain of command, and lawmakers say it has enough bipartisan votes to pass, according to NPR. U.S. Sen\u00a0Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is a vocal supporter of Gillibrand\u2019s bill.\r\n\u201cI\u2019m going to predict by the end of this Congress, we\u2019re going to pass this bill,\u201d Cruz said at an\u00a0April news conference. \u201cAnd, it\u2019s about damn time.\u201d\r\nThe Guill\u00e9n family has continually advocated for reform after Vanessa Guill\u00e9n\u2019s death, meeting with lawmakers and speaking out against abuse. Their family has advocated for both the federal and state legislation and has given its blessing that both bear Vanessa Guill\u00e9n\u2019s name.\r\n\u201cWe must be the voice, be the change and honor my sister. No one deserves to die the way she died,\u201d Vanessa Guill\u00e9n\u2019s sister, Lupe Guill\u00e9n, said at a press conference last month. \u201cNo one deserves to suffer the way my sister suffered. No one. So please advocate for this legislation because we must save those who are saving our lives.\u201d\r\nThis story originally published by the Texas Tribune.