(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) questioned defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“You know, I noted in your opening statement that 'no single quote and no single vote' define you in the entirety. And, perhaps not as a whole, but votes and quotes do matter. And I think that the questions about what you've said and what you've done in the past are entirely appropriate and I think also reconsidering, or your views evolving is also appropriate,” Blumenthal said in his opening remarks.
Blumenthal then asked Hagel whether he would, if confirmed, reevaluate the number of veterans, particularly Vietnam veterans, who received less than honorable discharges for reasons likely related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a time when the illness wasn’t recognized.
BLUMENTHAL: I want to begin by talking about one issue that concerns our veterans, particularly our Vietnam veterans. Many Vietnam veterans in Connecticut and around the country received less than honorable discharge as a result of conduct that was a direct consequence of PTS at a time when PTS was not a term, not diagnosed, not treated.
But they have to live with the consequences of a less than honorable discharge. They have to live with fewer benefits often. And I would like a commitment from you that the Department of Defense will reevaluate and revisit, perhaps, some of those individual cases, as well as its general policies to take account of the fact that we now know that many of those veterans during the Vietnam era suffered from PTS or related kinds of injuries.
HAGEL: Well, you have my commitment to do everything I can about that. I understand the issue pretty well, been working on this issue long before I actually ever got to the Senate. So I will. Thank you.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
Blumenthal also asked Hagel if he had seen the documentary “The Invisible War,” a documentary about sexual assault in the military.
BLUMENTHAL: And I would like the same kind of commitment that you've expressed very persuasively on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the issue of sexual assault. This issue, bedevils the military, I don't know whether you've seen an excellent documentary called, "The Invisible War."
Blumenthal followed up his question about the documentary by asking whether Hagel would commit to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual assault and providing victims with care.
BLUMENTHAL: And I know you're familiar with this issue. I commend you for what you've said to me privately and I would ask that your commitment, not only to the prosecution and holding accountable people who are involved in this criminal conduct, but also to the victims so that they receive the kind of services that, in the civilian world, many of them do through victims advocates in the courts and similar kinds of roles played, so both to prosecution – effective, vigorous, zealous – but also to protection to the victims. Can you commit to that?
HAGEL: Absolutely, I'll commit to that.
In addition, Blumenthal asked Hagel if he would support the Ohio Replacement Program, a program that renews the United States’ fleet of 12 ballistic missile submarines used for nuclear deterrence.
BLUMENTHAL: On the strategic issues, I wonder if I can talk to you for a moment about submarines, which you and I discussed privately, briefly. The Department of Defense, the joint chiefs, the president, have all committed to an Ohio-class replacement program that consists of a fleet of 12, starting no later than 2031.
Global Zero settled on a lower number, 10. I strongly believe that the cost will increase the cost per submarine and that we will be at severe risk for reasons that you may well understand, although we can't really discuss them in detail here because, I think, they may be classified. I would like a commitment that you are committed, as well, to a fleet of 12 Ohio-class replacement submarines.
HAGEL: On that issue, I would want to talk with our chief, our chief of naval operations, get a better understanding of our budget. I can tell you this, I am committed completely to modernizing our Navy and everything it includes and will require. I'll give you that commitment.
BLUMENTHAL: I'm sure you know that the Ohio-class replacement program is really the cornerstone of our nuclear deterrence...
HAGEL: I do.
BLUMENTHAL: ... vital to our national security, but it requires clear leadership and support from the next Secretary of Defense. So I hope you will perhaps come back to us on that issue.
HAGEL: I will. You and I will be discussing this, I'm sure, many times if I confirm, so thank you.
Finally, Blumenthal asked Hagel if he would commit to the procurement of two Virginia-class submarines in 2014.
BLUMENTHAL: Going to the Virginia-class submarines. The next multi-year purchase, known as Block 4, envisions 10 submarines.
There's a threat that it could be reduced to nine for reasons related to costs and national security. I think that number should be 10. The intent and spirit of the last National Defense Authorization Act was that it should be 10.
And I would like to ask you, similarly, for your commitment that there will be two submarines for 2014 and that the program continues to be viable at the level of 10.
HAGEL: Senator, I will commit to what we have committed to, to carry out what we need to fund and develop and build in order to maintain the kind of modern Navy we're going to require. Those submarines, as you note, are our cornerstones to that security.
“I appreciate your frank and forthright answers. And I don't know whether I'll be here for the second round of questioning, but I want to express my sincere gratitude to you for your willingness to serve and your patience and forthrightness in entering all our questions. Thank you,” Blumenthal concluded.
Video of Blumenthal’s question-and-answer session with Hagel is here. An unofficial transcript is here.