Members of Congress from Minnesota are demanding the U.S. Army take action and review its policies surrounding the treatment of sex assault victims after a soldier from Minnesota committed suicide earlier this year.
In a letter sent to the Secretary of the Army, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Representative Tom Emmer asked the Army to track the time it takes to transfer victims sex assault to another military base, citing the "unfortunate delays" in the transfer of Pvt. Nicole Burnham.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS obtained a copy of the Army's investigation into Burnham's death. It took the Army 82 days – nearly three months – to transfer the 21-year-old veteran from Camp Casey in South Korea last year after she reported a sex assault by another soldier, according to those records.
During that time, the graduate of Anoka High School was harassed by her attacker and cyber-bullied by fellow soldiers and their wives, according to an Army investigation.
Burnham, of Andover, died by suicide on January 26, 2018 – 23 days after she was finally transferred to and arrived at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Army later linked her suicide to the trauma she had suffered in Korea, according to military records.
"We urge the Army to learn from this tragic situation," Klobuchar and Emmer wrote in their letter.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS contacted them after obtaining a military investigation into Private Burnham's death.
The letter highlights existing Army policy that states a commanding officer must approve or disapprove a transfer request from a victim of sexual assault within 72 hours of receiving it.
But the lawmakers point out "the regulations are not clear on how long a victim must wait for the transfer to occur once it is approved," leaving the victim subject to potential harassment or retaliation.
That's why Klobuchar and Emmer have asked the Army to maintain records on the time it takes to transfer victims once a request is made.
"There should be a time limit… you have seven days to get them to a different station," said Pvt. Burnham's mother, Stacey.
Klobuchar and Emmer request that the Army consider several other changes to its current policy, including the removal of bureaucratic red tape that can delay victim transfers.
Department of Defense records show in 2017, 760 victims of sexual assault requested a transfer to a new location.
The letter also reinforces the need for communication between a survivor's current command staff and those superior officers at the victim's new base, stating in part that they "must be aware of the specific circumstances involved in a transfer to ensure the proper support is provided upon arrival."
Commanders had failed to alert staff at Camp Carson that Burnham was a victim of sexual assault, according to military records.