Vanessa Guillen’s Family Will Receive Military Death Benefits After New Army Ruling
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The Army has concluded that Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s death, allegedly at the hands of another soldier, occurred in the “line of duty” — a designation that gives her next of kin access to benefits and services.
Officials at Fort Hood, Texas, said Tuesday that an investigation determined Guillen’s death occurred as a result of her military duties and they have informed her family of the results.
The designation means that Guillen is entitled to a funeral with full military honors and her family will receive a death gratuity; compensation under Servicemembers Group Life Insurance; final pay and allowances; and financial counseling services.
According to a release, III Corps leadership remains in “contact with the Guillen family to keep them informed of actions being taken at Fort Hood” as well as what policies are being revised to “ensure Army culture continues to put people first and honors Vanessa’s life.”
Guillen, a soldier with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, disappeared April 22 and was allegedly murdered by another specialist, Aaron Robinson, according to a July 2 criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
Robinson died by suicide July 2 when confronted by local police. Two days later, federal authorities filed a criminal complaint charging 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, a civilian and the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier, with conspiracy to tamper with evidence in Guillen’s disappearance.
According to court documents, Robinson told Aguilar he killed Guillen “by striking her in the head with a hammer” on April 22 and then smuggled her body to a remote site in Bell County. Aguilar allegedly helped Robinson mutilate and dispose of Guillen’s body.
Aguilar is charged with three felony counts of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. She has pleaded not guilty, and a court hearing has been set for Nov. 30.
Guillen allegedly told family members she was being sexually harassed at work but did not report the abuse to her chain of command; her death has become a rallying cry to end sexual harassment and assaults in the U.S. military.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., have introduced a bill, the “I am Vanessa Guillen Act,” to allow service members to report sexual harassment and assault to a third party and make sexual harassment a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Pentagon officials said last year that they intended to make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime under the UCMJ. Currently, threatening behavior falls under Article 120, Rape, Sexual Assault and Other Sexual Misconduct.
As a result of the disappearance and death of Guillen and several other soldiers across the Army this year, the service is overhauling its policies on investigating missing troops. Army leaders said last week that commanders must take action to find service members and thoroughly investigate disappearances before declaring a soldier absent without leave.
Designating a soldier as AWOL carries a “certain connotation” that can lead to drawing conclusions about a member that aren’t helpful to finding them, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told reporters during a virtual meeting at the Association of the United States Army annual conference.
Rather than assume troops are absent without leave, units should be “talking about taking care of soldiers, talking about aggressively looking for them. That’s the philosophy we want in the Army. We wouldn’t leave soldiers behind in combat. We don’t want to leave them behind in garrison,” McConville said.
Military.com reached out to the Guillen family’s attorney for comment, but she did not respond by publication.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced July 10 that he had ordered an independent review of the command climate and culture at Fort Hood in connection to the Guillen case.
— Staff writer Matthew Cox contributed to this report.
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