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Vanessa Guillén's sisters speak at a hearing in the U.S. Capitol in 2021.
Vanessa Guillén's family filed the claim on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.

Family of Vanessa Guillén files $35 million claim against the U.S.

The Fort Hood specialist was murdered by a fellow soldier and found dead back in 2020.

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The family of slain Fort Hood soldier, Vanessa Guillén, is seeking more than $35 million in damages from the U.S. government. The 20-year old was killed in an armory room by a fellow soldier at the military base near the city of Killeen, Texas. Her dismembered remains were not found until two months later along the nearby Leon River. 

In a claim filed last Friday, Aug. 12, the family is seeking millions in damages on the basis of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, sodomy, and wrongful death. Negligence should also be factored, as a military investigation into the murder revealed that she had been sexually harassed leading up to her murder, but no actions were taken. 

The claim itself named two instances in which the Guillén was harassed during her time at the military as well as the subsequent suicidal thoughts that came as a result of trying to deal with the harassment. She told family she did not want to report the actions in fear of retaliation, something a soldier should not have to feel towards her employer, the U.S. Military. 

After being declared missing in April 2020, her remains were discovered three months later in July. The accused soldier responsible for her death committed suicide following a confrontation with police. The accused’s girlfriend is known to be the one who assisted in the disposition of Guillén’s remains and now faces charges. Her remains were taken miles away from the location of the actual murder. 

“This will be an opportunity for every victim to feel not only like they have a voice but that they can be made whole,” said Natalie Khawam, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the family. 

The claim itself says that from Oct. 1, 2019 through April 22, 2020, "Guillén suffered mental anguish, fear, emotional distress, physical injury, and death as a result of sexual harassment, rape, sodomy, and physical assault." 

“Historically you couldn't sue the DOD if you're a victim of sexual harassment/assault due to the DOD's broad misapplication of the Feres Doctrine, a 1950's Supreme Court decision that never included or addressed sexual assault, yet the DOD continued to use that case to evade accountability — This week the 9th Circuit held that sexual assault is not incident to service, and therefore the Feres Doctrine should not apply to service members who are sexually assaulted," Khawam said in a statement to CNN.

"Our service members deserve the same rights and protections we all have. They have been denied these basic protections for too long. They signed up to take a bullet for our country, not to be sexually assaulted while serving. The 9th Circuit's ruling is a major step in seeking Justice for Vanessa, and all victims of sexual assault," she added. 

The claim is seeking $25 million in personal injury claims and $10 million for her wrongful death.

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