The Army has disqualified 588 of its members from serving as sexual assault counselors, recruiters, and drill sergeants, according to a report from USA Today. The disqualifications come after a lengthy review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2013. Hagel was concerned that some members may be unfit to serve in "positions of trust" after incidents of unwanted sexual contact among troops rose 35 percent from 2010 to 2012.
At first, the Army disqualified only 55 members from these positions, but after screening 20,000 more members, officials came up with 588. The members were disqualified for infractions ranging from sexual assault to child abuse to drunk driving, USA Today reports.
While it's important that the Army is conducting a thorough screening process, the high disqualification number again raises questions about how well the service can handle sexual assault cases on its own. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand continues to push for an amendment to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. She tells USA Today, "These continued reports paint a very clear picture of why nine out of 10 sexual assault victims don't report their attack and why the military needs a reformed, independent and transparent system of justice."
The Navy, Marines, and Air Force have not taken the same steps. The Marines and the Air Force conducted reviews but did not disqualify any members from serving as counselors, recruiters, or drill sergeants. The Navy disqualified five members of about 10,000 screened from recruiting and counseling positions.
On MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes last week, Gillibrand called the military "a closed system where your boss, the commander, holds all the cards. They are the only decision-maker on whether or not you go to trial. And so that boss, if they’re not a lawyer, if they don’t know what sexual assault and rape is, if they think it’s a crime of dating or a hook-up culture, they’re not going to get it right. And to expect them to get it right is the mistake."
Gillibrand says she has 54 votes in the Senate for her amendment, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised will get a vote soon. She'll need six more senators to defeat a likely filibuster.
Update: Gillibrand announced that Republican Sen. Jerry Moran has decided to support her amendment, bringing the total to 55.
Army spokesman Col. David Patterson said in a statement Wednesday, "We will continue working to better ensure we select the very best people for these posts, and that the chain of command knows what is expected of them, and how important this work is to the Army."