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Washington, D.C. ¬– U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John McCain (R-AZ) today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel seeking information on the rising incidents of child abuse and neglect within the military and pledging to work with the Department of Defense to successfully address this issue.

The text of the letter is attached and below.

July 31, 2013

The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Hagel,

We share your deep concern for the health and safety of military children.  So we write today to pledge our commitment to stand with you to successfully address the issue of rising incidents of child abuse and neglect within the military. The abuse of military children is a complex problem but nonetheless unacceptable, and it is one that we need to work together to solve without delay. 

Data provided to us by the Army include alarming figures about the abuse or neglect of military children over the past decade: nearly 30,000 children have suffered child abuse or neglect, 1,400 have been subjected to sexual abuse, and 118 have died because of their injuries.[1]  Most disturbing is the 75,000 cases referred to authorities, of which 40,000 did not meet criteria for abuse or neglect.  These figures are for the Army alone and do not include abuse or neglect reports from the other military departments, thus denying us a complete picture of the extent of the problem in our armed forces. 

The Army Times reported recently that part of the problem is the inadequate screening of new recruits, which allows some with child abuse convictions on their records to slip through the cracks.[2]  This affirms the concerns the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed in the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, directing DoD to report “whether there are existing loopholes and shortcomings” in the current background check system that might allow persons convicted, for example, of sexual assault or child abuse, to serve without detection.[3]

During an Armed Services hearing in June, General Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, stated, “Background checks are done.  But the ability to identify sexual offenders is certainly not 100 percent right now.  We have to do a better job of doing that.”  Clearly, we must fix this background check system.  If it helps only 1 of the 1,400 sexually abused children, it is worth it.

As part of a productive dialogue that will help us to address this issue together, please provide the following information not later than September 3, 2013:

1. Statistics from each of the military departments on child abuse and neglect, starting from the year 2000, to compare pre-war and current data.

2. The extent to which all service members are periodically screened for criminal offenses such as sexual assault and child abuse, and the current process used to identify those serving in the military with civilian convictions on their record.

3. Correlations between child abuse and previous criminal convictions.

5. According to Army data provided to our offices, 75,420 cases were referred to the Family Advocacy Program, but only 29,552 met the criteria for abuse or neglect.  What are the criteria, and who determines if they are met?  Are the criteria standard across the military departments?

6. Information on current Department of Defense programs designed to indentify and prevent child abuse.  Please include a detailed explanation of these programs’ funding over the Future Years Defense Program and their exposure to cuts due to budget sequestration. 

The readiness of the volunteer force relies in part on the health of military families.  We look forward to working with you to improve the efficacy of the Department of Defense’s child abuse prevention programs, which must include more thorough vetting during the service member recruitment process.  You have our pledge that we will not let military children be the forgotten casualties of war. 

Sincerely,

John McCain
Joe Manchin                                                               

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