Building on investments and improvements over the past decade, the Coast Guard continues to make strides in ensuring all members experience a workplace that is safe; free from harassment, assault, hazing, bullying, hate, discrimination, and retaliation; and aligns with our Core Values.
Four Coast Guard members, past and present, testified to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HGSAC) on Dec. 12, 2023. “Their brave testimony resonated across the service and reflected voices heard during recent listening sessions with our members regarding sexual assault and harassment,” said Vice Adm. Peter Gautier, Deputy Commandant for Operations, one of the Service’s senior leaders coordinating the initiatives to strengthen our culture. “Their frank input and constructive recommendations add to our actions to make a better workplace for all. I appreciate their commitment to the Service’s Core Values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.”
Upcoming leadership conferences will focus on foundational Service culture and the way ahead for addressing sexual assault, harassment, and other harmful behaviors to ensure that every Coast Guard leader is equipped and empowered to strengthen the Coast Guard culture.
Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM) is also establishing new training that will reinforce expectations across the workforce at more career points and will become a permanent part of the leadership development process. The expanded leadership training will start with senior leaders and then expand to more junior members. This was a key action from the Commandant’s chartered Accountability and Transparency Review.
“At times we have failed to connect the workplace experience to our Core Values. We are committed to rebuilding trust and ensuring every member of our workforce (Active Duty, Reserve, Civilian, Auxiliary, and our families) feels empowered to own our culture,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Heath Jones. “We are invested in a future where every member knows they are valued, included, trusted, and empowered. We continually excel in our statutory missions, and I think we need to treat culture like a statutory mission.”
“Coast Guard mission success demands that we have the trust of the public we serve and of the workforce we lead,” said Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Linda Fagan. “Everyone in our Service, from me through every level of command and supervision, must be committed to fostering a culture where each member of our workforce is valued, empowered, trusted and supported.”
Here are more key updates on the Coast Guard’s actions.
First of its kind: Enterprise Victim Advocate position
The Coast Guard has created an Enterprise Victim Advocate (EVA) position, the first of its kind within the armed forces.
Capt. Laura Collins, U.S. Coast Guard, retired, will be the first EVA. In this new role, she will advance efforts to address sexual assault and sexual harassment issues within the workforce and ensure the Service supports victims of harmful behaviors. She will take victims’ perspectives into account and be a strong connection between stakeholder groups and Coast Guard leadership.
The position is the latest Coast Guard initiative to focus on victim support. You can read about other recent efforts here. Many of these actions stemmed from the Coast Guard’s 2018 decision to identify victim recovery as a key component in addressing sexual assault and harassment within our ranks.
Safe to Report
The Coast Guard wants victims to come forward and report incidents of sexual assault. However, in many sexual assault cases, the victim or a reporting witness may have participated in some form of collateral misconduct, such as underage drinking, barracks rule violations, or a prohibited relationship. Fear of repercussions may keep the victim or witness from reporting the assault. To help victims feel safe coming forward, the Coast Guard has issued a Safe to Report policy that ensures sexual assault victims won’t be punished for minor collateral misconduct. The Safe to Report policy removes a barrier for victims who want to report sexual assault and provides direction for field commanders and the Office of the Chief Prosecutor on how to handle collateral misconduct.
Special Victims’ Counsel
Senate testimony included a recommendation that Special Victims’ Counsels (SVCs) have more experience before being assigned to the role. In response, the Coast Guard has mandated that all SVCs will have a minimum of two years of legal practice or applicable Coast Guard leadership experience.
“All sexual assault victims deserve experienced, skilled, and compassionate representation to guide and assist them through the legal process,” said Rear Adm. Richard Batson, Coast Guard Judge Advocate General. “By increasing the standards for SVC assignment, we ensure proper legal advocacy when members need it the most.”
Streamlined records to Veterans Affairs
The Coast Guard decreased the time some members wait for their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating. To adjudicate claims of military sexual trauma (MST), the VA uses designated teams specialized in the unique nature of MST-involved claims compared to other service-connected conditions. These teams need access to a member’s personnel file since medical records alone may not clearly reflect how a victim was impacted by MST.
Now, the Coast Guard allows the VA direct access to iPERMS (interactive Personnel Electronic Records Management System) to retrieve needed records. Previously there was a significant delay in the manual transmission of the personnel file. Separating and retiring members who need to file an MST-involved claim will now receive their disability rating much sooner, ensuring they have continued access to support and medical services.
The Coast Guard’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) spurred this improvement. “When we recognized this disconnect, we identified a solution and advocated for the quick change,” said Cmdr. Amanda (Mandy) Le Monde, National Chair of WLI. “We are grateful to have a WLI community that is passionate and committed to improving the Coast Guard.”
During the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) hearing on Dec. 12, witnesses testified about challenges they faced when requesting access to documentation. In line with the witnesses’ comments, the Coast Guard is hiring additional staff and improving its approach to managing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by victims of sexual assaults.
The Coast Guard is also exploring legislative and policy approaches to improve Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) and victim access to information during adjudication of cases, including ensuring access to sexual assault forensic examination reports, and the victims’ statements and medical records.
The Coast Guard is cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG), which is investigating both the original Fouled Anchor investigation as well as the Coast Guard’s handling of the final Fouled Anchor report.
The Service is also responding to multiple Congressional requests for information to inform ongoing inquiries and investigations across oversight committees. The Coast Guard has provided over 36,000 pages of material in response to over 300 different requests for information.
The Coast Guard is working with Congress to enhance our authorities to ensure we have the tools we need to effectively hold members accountable and ensure a culture that lives up to our Core Values with a focus on physical safety at the Coast Guard Academy, improving victim recovery, and strengthening consequences for those found to have committed sexual assault.
“As the Coast Guard continues to improve policies and resources to prevent and respond to sexual assault, we’re also taking on the larger challenge – strengthening our Service culture,” said Vice Adm. Gautier. “Being the world’s best Coast Guard requires everyone to hold each other accountable to model behaviors that reflect Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.”
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