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Bipartisan legislation includes provisions to increase protections for military whistleblowers and end clawback of National Guard bonuses

Source: Boxer Press Office

December 12, 2016 (Washington D.C.) -- U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) praised Senate passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes two key provisions she authored to strengthen protections for military whistleblowers and permanently halt efforts to claw back reenlistment bonuses and benefits paid to California National Guard soldiers.

"These reforms will help ensure that whistleblowers who experience reprisal receive justice and that retaliators are held accountable," Senator Boxer said. "Servicemembers who bravely speak out about wrongdoing or misconduct - especially sexual assault survivors - will be better protected from retaliation.

She added, "I am also pleased that we took action to protect National Guard soldiers and their families from being held responsible‎ for the mistakes and illegal actions of others." Senator Boxer also thanked Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) for their support for these measures.

Senator Boxer authored the original Military Whistleblower Protection Act in 1988 as a member of the House of Representatives. Although the law has been updated periodically over the years, changes have not kept pace with protections afforded to civilian whistleblowers. Senator Boxer introduced legislation in 2015, the Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act, along with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) to strengthen protections for military whistleblowers, including sexual assault survivors, and reform military correction boards to help servicemembers who have been wronged receive restitution.

The provisions included in the NDAA would better protect military whistleblowers against the retaliation they may face for reporting a crime by:

  • Banning commanders from initiating retaliatory investigations against servicemembers who blow the whistle;
  • Providing an avenue for intermediate relief when a retaliatory action would cause significant hardship to the servicemember;
  • Requiring the service Secretaries to report on corrective or disciplinary action taken against retaliators;
  • Requiring the development and implementation of uniform training standards for Inspector General investigators; and
  • Requiring a Comptroller General review of the integrity of the Department of Defense whistleblower program.

And it would ensure that servicemembers - including whistleblowers - are able to receive fair and thorough consideration at the Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records by:

  • Instructing the Boards to obtain relevant medical or personnel records to ensure servicemembers are not turned away by military corrections boards simply because they are unable to obtain their military records; and
  • Requiring the development and implementation of uniform training standards for Board members.

Additionally, the NDAA includes provisions, based on the National Guard Bonus Repayment and Financial Relief Act introduced by Senators Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff (all D-CA), to permanently halt efforts to claw back reenlistment bonuses and benefits paid to California National Guard soldiers a decade ago. The language prevents the Army from recouping those funds from any service members who unknowingly received them during that time period. It also requires the Army to reimburse any soldier who has already repaid the government and to notify credit agencies that any debt previously reported was invalid. The bill would not cover National Guard members who engaged in fraud or misrepresentation.

The National Defense Authorization Act now goes to the President for his signature.