Guillen family marks one year since Vanessa’s death with push for institutional change

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 1:31 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Today marks the one-year anniversary of the disappearance and death of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen. Guillen’s family is marking the occasion in the nation’s capital, continuing their push for reform in the military.

They are pushing for the reintroduction of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, a reform bill that stalled in Congress last year. Meetings with lawmakers have them optimistic these reforms are coming for how the military handles and investigates sexual assault and harassment. But family attorney Natalie Khawam says they were hoping for meetings with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden to garner even more support.

“Get legislation passed. Enough is enough. If we don’t have legislation...the Vanessa Guillen bill passed, we’re just going to read (about) more fatalities, more deaths,” said Khawam.

Guillen’s family alleges she was harassed by a superior but did not know who to report to. They say she was murdered by the person guilty of harassment toward her, and that a broken system played a role in her death.

“I’m going to be her voice because nothing that happened to my sister is fair,” said Lupe Guillen, one of Vanessa’s sisters.

The bipartisan bill aims to take allegations and investigations out of the hands of the direct chain of command, but the Defense Department would still be in charge of appointing an independent investigative unit.

“Why not try something that’s new and better than continue to do the same thing that’s proven failed?” said Khawam.

Khawam says they are hoping to reintroduce the bill sometime in May after the Biden administration finishes its own investigation into military sexual assault. The administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Thursday evening the family and Khawam held a vigil for Guillen in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in D.C. next to a mural of Guillen.

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