Floor Speech

Date: July 13, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, as the vice chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, and representing Fort Bliss in my home district of El Paso, Texas, I am proud to speak in support of this bill, which passed out of our committee with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The bill supports a military basic pay raise of 4.6 percent and includes a targeted bonus to address the challenges of inflation. It provides additional resources to decrease out-of-pocket costs for housing and for our commissaries so they can keep their prices low.

It mitigates the tragedy of suicide by supporting an increase in the number of behavioral health providers to ensure access to care for those who need it most. And, given concerns about the increasing number of vacancies of military and civilian providers across the Military Health System, this bill prohibits the Department from realigning or reducing military medical end strength until additional analysis on the impacts is complete.

We also built on last year's historic reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, ensuring our criminal litigators are getting the best training, resources, and experience possible to support our troops.

We are also taking care of our military children. In 2021, more than 20,000 children of servicemembers who had immediate need for childcare were stuck on waitlists. In order to address the root causes, we are requiring the Department of Defense to complete a study on adequate pay for military childcare center employees.

To better support families with special needs, the bill establishes a grant program to help them navigate school districts after every move and ensures children with disabilities receive appropriate and high- quality educational services.

Together, servicemembers and their families make countless sacrifices for our Nation, which is why we must continue our commitment to them.

I am grateful to Chairwoman Jackie Speier for her leadership, and I am grateful to the ranking member and proud of the contributions our subcommittee made to this bill.

Mr. Speaker, this bill would make a tremendous difference in the lives of our military families, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask for support for my amendment to allow servicemembers to get their chains of command to process their complaints of harassment and prohibited discrimination in a timely manner.

My amendment does not grant servicemembers any new rights or expand existing ones, nor does it allow them to sue the Department of Defense. It simply gives them the leverage to hold their chains of command to their own timeline for processing complaints that have been filed.

Our servicemembers put their lives on the line protecting our country every day. They make the ultimate sacrifice to serve our country in ways that many cannot.

When they file complaints alleging serious harassment and discrimination they have experienced while serving, they deserve to be heard and to receive timely responses.

Data shows that civilian military employees file far more discrimination and harassment complaints than servicemembers do, despite having a smaller workforce than our servicemembers.

This is because our servicemembers lack many of the protections and privileges that their civilian counterparts have when it comes to discrimination and harassment, including this one.

While this benefits all servicemembers, my amendment would be especially significant for women and minorities serving in the Armed Forces.

Data from one Pentagon survey showed nearly a third of Black servicemembers and a significant percentage of Asian and Hispanic servicemembers experience racial harassment, discrimination, or both during service.

This is talent we need to work to retain, and my amendment would help with that. Our servicemembers deserve meaningful and robust policies that ensure their complaints are processed expeditiously and with the utmost urgency.

My amendment respects the separate internal administrative systems the services have for processing complaints. It simply creates a time limit to ensure they are processed within a reasonable timeframe that is respectful of the servicemembers and their experiences.

Simply put, it ensures that after 180 days, if a servicemember's complaint remains unresolved, the servicemember can request a court order that would then direct the department to act on the case expeditiously.

Absent this amendment, servicemembers routinely wait months and months, and sometimes even years, for their complaints to be resolved, with no ability to urge the services to act on their complaints.

This amendment brings an added level of urgency into internal administrative processes.

My amendment would empower our servicemembers and bolster confidence in the systems in place.

By passing this amendment, we are thereby extending protections civilians already enjoy onto our servicemembers, whose battles should be fought on the battlefield, not within the ranks.


Ms. ESCOBAR. Mr. Speaker, I have tremendous respect for the ranking member and the work that he has done on our great committee.

I do want to emphasize that servicemembers would not be allowed to sue the Department of Defense. In fact, in many of these cases what happens is the cases are resolved by policy or should be resolved by policy within about 60 days, so this actually gives the service lines added time to resolve these cases.

This is for those egregious examples--and I have spoken with servicemembers who have had to live with these egregious examples--of lack of a true effort to resolve these harassment and discrimination claims. So this would be a last resort that would simply have a court urge the service line to complete the investigation of harassment or discrimination.

We are currently experiencing a challenge in recruitment. We want to retain this talent, and we want to demonstrate to our servicemembers that they matter, all of them, and that we will ensure that they have access to a free and fair process.