Changes Underway to Better Care for Soldiers

Changes Underway to Better Care for Soldiers

Photo by: U.S. Army/Spc. David N. Beckstrom

The Army is implementing big changes to reform military justice, reorganize the sexual harassment and assault prevention response program and create a civilian-staffed “prevention workforce,” a senior Army official said.

The three initiatives are part of more than 80 recommendations made last fall by the Independent Review Commission stood up by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who, in his first directive as secretary, pledged to tackle sexual assault and harassment in the force.

James Helis, director of the Army Resilience Directorate, said the Army “received a roadmap and the guidance and direction” from the commission and, after an intensive process to identify and present solutions to the most pressing challenges, is now beginning implementation.

“The first step is recognizing that when we talk about people and mission, which sometimes often we do, that’s a false dichotomy. We have to build into our mindset that people are the mission,” Helis said May 24 during a webinar hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army as part of its Noon Report series.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military … are behaviors that split unit cohesion, that harm soldiers, and they just cannot be tolerated within the military. They're just so contrary to our values,” said Helis, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1979 and served 30 years as an infantry officer.

The military justice reforms recommended by the commission were also included in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, Helis noted, explaining that “essentially, a certain family of serious crimes will move from the purview of commanders to the office of the special trial counsel” set to stand up this summer and be fully operational by December 2023.

“They'll begin building the infrastructure over the next year and a half, putting personnel in place, developing policies, procedures for implementation, so it will be a well-considered, well thought out, deliberate process before we make these major changes to how we administer military justice,” Helis said.

The second big change will be reorganization of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, he said, “particularly the victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators … the people who are on the front lines of taking care of soldiers who are victims.”

Instead of the current procedure of reporting sexual assault or harassment to the brigade commander, the victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators at an installation will report to a senior sexual assault response coordinator, “who will in turn report directly to the senior commander,” Helis said.

The third component in the short list of top priorities is what Helis called a “prevention workforce.”

These teams of civilian experts will give commanders capacity, specialized capabilities and skills that they don’t necessarily have at hand to put integrated prevention to work at their installations, he said. 

Soldiers who are staffing places like the new “People First Center” recently stood up at Fort Hood, Texas, will be able to return to their jobs in their units instead of being “borrowed military manpower,” Helis said.

The idea, he said, is to “provide this prevention system through a dedicated workforce” that will provide analytic capability to sift through the mountains of data collected by the Army in efforts such as command climate surveys, commanders’ risk reduction toolkits and crime reports.

“They can do listening sessions, they can be eyes and ears and collect information for commanders, for leaders, on what's happening at their installation, to inform how commanders go about in an integrated way of creating healthier communities, more positive climate and taking better care of soldiers,” Helis said.