It's Time to Take Care of Our Warriors
Chief Master Sergeant Cindy McNally, USAF (Ret.)
I was sexually traumatized in the military. Early in my career, while I was in tech school, two instructors tried to assault me. When I reported the incident to my commander, I had to stand outside of his office with both of my assaulters while he considered the situation. They both outranked me. I knew then that I would never again report an assault as a member of the military, no matter what happened. A year later, I was sexually assaulted and never reported it. Both of these occurred in the 70's and it saddens me that some environments in the military still exist where victims don't feel they can report sexual assaults.
The problem of sexual assault in the military hasn't gone away. In January, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that while service members reported a little over 3,000 sexual assaults last year, because so few victims come forward, Pentagon officials believe that nearly 19,000 assaults may have actually taken place.
"These women and these men who are willing to fight and die to protect and serve our country," Panetta said, "they deserve better protection. Their families and dependents also sacrifice and serve. And so for this reason, we must spare no effort to protect them."
He's right. We need to take care of our warriors. And while the Defense Department works on strategies to end sexual assault in the military, Congress can act now to take care of the military women, wives and daughters who become pregnant as a result of rape and incest.
I was surprised to learn that the Defense Department only provides insurance coverage of abortion if a servicewoman's life is at risk and doesn't provide coverage if she is raped. Yet our government does provide abortion coverage for other women, like federal employees, who rely on the government for their health care. Why are our military women treated differently? This is unjust and unfair. At the very least, our military women deserve the same access to care as civilian women.
I'm glad that the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment, introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, which would lift the federal ban on insurance coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest. Our servicewomen commit their lives to defending our freedoms and, in return, Congress should respect their service and sacrifice and provide them with the level of health care coverage they deserve.
Despite my early experiences with sexual assault, I decided to stay in the military and I'm glad I did. I am proud of my Air Force career. I performed many "firsts for females" and worked alongside America's finest. I retired in 2003 as the first female Maintenance Group Superintendent in the First Fighter Wing. But just because I no longer "wear the uniform", it doesn't mean I stopped caring for the men and women who go into harm's way on our behalf. I support the Shaheen Amendment because we need to be able to look our warriors in the eye and say "I will take care of you." When we do not fully take care of or fully protect any one sector of our troops, then we aren't doing our jobs as citizens, nor honoring the sacrifices they make on our behalf. This Memorial Day week, the Senate Armed Services Committee took a step in doing the right thing. Our warriors deserve absolutely no less!