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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Chinatown soldier Danny Chen’s suicide last October has contributed to the writing of legislation that would more stringently enforce anti-bullying in the armed forces.
The Service Member Anti-Hazing Act, which U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez is introducing to Congress this week, would require all branches of the U.S. military to more effectively combat hazing through targeted policies and training.
The federal bill comes on the heels of 301 U.S. soldiers’ suicides last year alone and a total of 1,100 soldiers’ suicides during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to Velazquez.
The bill’s direct impetus, however, was the March 22 congressional hearing at which military officials revealed that the military lacks a systematic means of tracking hazing — commonly defined as persecution or harassment with meaningless, difficult or humiliating tasks.
“After listening to the answers to my own questions, I wasn’t satisfied that the Department of Defense and the military were doing enough to prevent future hazing incidents,” Velazquez said at a press conference held at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (C.C.B.A.) offices in Chinatown.
“We cannot bring Danny Chen back,” she said, “but we can try to find some good in this tragedy by preventing future hazing incidents, and this is exactly what we’re pursuing by introducing this legislation.”
Under the law, hazing awareness would be integrated into all soldiers’ training regimen, and each military branch would have to create and implement rules to curb the misbehavior when it occurs. The law would also require the military to collect data on the number of reported hazing incidents and profile information on the individuals involved. Military officials would also have to assess whether corrective action was taken.
The U.S. secretary of defense would report these findings to Congress on an annual basis, according to Velazquez.
The legislation also calls on each military branch to set up an anonymous hotline for soldiers victimized by hazing, so that they’re not intimidated from seeking help. The law would also enable harassed service personnel to be transferred out of their units more quickly, “so they may get out of a bad situation before a tragedy happens,” Velazquez said.
The legislation would also mandate a hazing oversight panel to review, monitor and make recommendations about the issue. The panel would comprise the secretary of defense, the heads of each branch of the military and outside stakeholders, including women’s, ethnic and minority advocacy organizations.
Finally, the law directs the defense secretary to implement a diversity training program, in which all members of the military would have to regularly participate.
Liz OuYang, executive director of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA-NY), a lead advocate in the Chen case, sung the bill’s praises, saying hazing and the lack of accountability for it poisons America’s national security.
“It leads to divisiveness, lowers soldiers’ morale and tarnishes the U.S.’s reputation for being a protector of equality and democracy,” she said. “We know that our military can do better, and I ask with the public to work with Congresswoman Velazquez and the Army to improve these measures.”
Speaking in Chinese, Su Zhen Chen, Chen’s mother, said she hopes the public will support Velazquez’s legislation, “so that this never happens again to another family.”
Army officials declined to comment on the legislation.
The bill was introduced to Congress the week of May 7. Passage of national laws such as this one can take anywhere from weeks to months. A Velazquez spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the time frame for the bill’s passage other than saying that it’s a “priority” for the congresswoman.
Also the week of May 7, army officials announced that the courts-martial of the eight soldiers purportedly involved in Chen’s death were set to begin Thurs., May 17.
But a week later, without a full explanation, an Army spokesperson said they wouldn’t begin until August.
“One of the things that happens in a trial is that procedures change,” said the spokesperson. He wouldn’t comment further about the reasons for the date switch.
Asked if a new date had been decided on, the spokesperson said, “There isn’t a specific date that I’m aware of — they’re still working on it.”
Whenever the court-martial takes place, Staff Sergeant Blaine Dugas will be tried for dereliction of duty and making a false statement, among other violations of Army rules. He faces maximum punishment of eight-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, in addition to demotion of rank, forfeiture of pay and expulsion from the Army. The other soldiers’ trials have yet to be scheduled.
As previously reported by the Downtown Express, OCA-NY is organizing a cultural event set to take place on Thurs., May 24, at Pace High School (100 Hester St.) in honor of Danny Chen’s birthday. Featured artists will include R&B singer Taiyo Na, photographer Corky Lee and spoken-word artist Kris Lew, among others.
For more information, contact OCA-NY Executive Director Liz OuYang at firstname.lastname@example.org.