Bipartisan support is mounting again in Congress to require the military to appoint independent prosecutors when a sexual assault occurs.
The legislation, introduced earlier this summer by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York,in the Senate and Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, in the House, stalled earlier this summer amidst military officials' concerns about removing an investigation from direct chain of command.
Gillibrand and House Tea Party icon Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, along with other senators joined together this week to announce their intentions to get the 51 votes in the Senate to pass the legislation.
The effort is aimed at toughening how cases of sexual assault in the military are handed, in response to a growing problem in the armed services.
Last year, 3,374 cases involving sexual misconduct were reported in the military, but a 2012 Pentagon survey estimates the unreported number could be as high as 26,000 based on a survey of 108,000 active duty members from all service branches.
"If the victims do not trust the chain of command they will not report," Gillibrand said.
Following Gillibrand's lead, Northern Michigan Congressman Benishek continues to be seeking co-sponsors to push matching legislation.
"Right now a commander has the right to cancel the prosecution of someone," Benishek said, explaining his legislation. "Not only that, the victim now knows the commanding officer knows the details of the assault."
The second-term legislator says allowing the chain of command to prosecute sexual assaults creates a situation where both the accused and the victim continue to work closely, which he sees as unacceptable.
"This would just have the military prosecutor decide whether to prosecute or not based on the evidence," Benishek said. "I don't think that is such a radical change of military justice. The Canadians do it that way; the British and the Israelis do it that way."
In an effort to get support for the bill in his district, Benishek met with veterans Monday at an American Legion Hall in Petoskey and has also been working to get fellow representatives in Michigan, such as now co-sponsor Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, to back the bill.
Divided Democratic support for the revision in the Senate remains the biggest obstacle for bill supporters, though.
Retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, authored and picked up the Senate votes last month to require ranking military officials to review a commander's reasoning when an investigation is not charged. The legislation replaced Gillibrand's measure.
Levin testified previously that reforms have to change the "culture" surrounding sexual assaults in the military.
Both sides of the reform debate acknowledge the issue is serious and needs to be addressed, as do local veterans advocates.
"There needs to be an advocate for the person who has been offended, who is capable of maintaining the confidentiality and at the same time the humanity of the person who is offended," said Thad McGehee, a veteran and volunteer counselor with the Emmet County Veterans Affairs Office.
Area veterans organizations are handling cases -- both men and women -- dealing with trauma from sexual assaults and something needs to be done.
McGehee questions whether assigning independent prosecutors alone will be enough.
"You have to work with the whole chain of command; commanders yes, but there has to be an advocate separate of the entire chain of command," McGehee said.