When the National Guard’s top general came before Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and fellow senators at a defense appropriations subcommittee meeting Tuesday, she asked a series of questions about how the guard handles sexual assault.
Does he support extending whistleblower protections for all Guard members?
Does the Guard have enough investigators to review all sexual assault cases?
Could the Guard more frequently review the way it addresses sexual assault?
Gen. Daniel Hokanson offered few specifics, saying these matters were under review.
Baldwin’s questions mirrored those raised by a Cap Times and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation in March that found a decades-long pattern of Guard units burying sexual harassment and assault allegations, withholding crucial documents from victims and retaliating against women who have come forward.
In response to the investigation, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, pledged to hold hearings this summer on sexual assault in the Guard.
Baldwin said she will push for a variety of initiatives, including expanding military whistleblower protections for Guard members and boosting funding for federal investigations of state Guard sexual assault cases. She also called on Wisconsin lawmakers to update the state’s military laws.
Appearing before the Senate panel, Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, a federal agency that oversees Guard units across the country but does not regulate them, said he supports a whistleblower policy that covers all Guard members based on their service. He also said the agency is conducting a review of its investigative arm, the Office of Complex Investigations.
That office has 32 investigators trained to review sexual assault cases from Guard units in each state and U.S. territory. Though each unit is required to send cases to the Guard Bureau, it investigates about 30 percent of them, the Cap Times/Journal Sentinel investigation found.
Hokanson acknowledged a backlog of sexual assault cases and said more resources from Congress would help.
“We’re trying to get the older (cases) done as quickly as possible,” he said. “We can always use more resources. For us, it’s finding qualified personnel across the organization who has time to do this.”
He noted that the Guard Bureau was also exploring establishing its own military training program so more Guard members could be investigators.
In its most recent annual report on sexual assault, released earlier this month, the Guard Bureau said sexual assault reports in the force increased 4.5% from the previous fiscal year. Reported cases have risen steadily over the last five years.
“We know more work needs to be done,” Hokanson wrote in the report.