Army rules Spc. Vanessa Guillen's death was 'in the line of duty' entitling her family for benefits

Vanessa Guillen
Photo credit US Army
By Connecting Vets

The Army announced it decided Spc. Vanessa Guillén's death was "in the line of duty," qualifying the murdered soldier's family for benefits.

The Army routinely does "line of duty" investigations into soldiers' deaths to determine if their families are entitled to federal benefits. Guillén's family was briefed by Army officials Tuesday and told they are now entitled to benefits such as compensation to help the family with immediate expenses, a funeral with full military honors, service members' group life insurance and final pay and allowances. 

"The III Corps leadership remains in contact with the Guillén family to keep them informed of the additional actions being taken at Fort Hood, and what policies are being revised to ensure Army culture continues to put people first and honors Vanessa’s life," Fort Hood officials said in a news release Tuesday. 

Guillén's gruesome murder at the hands of a fellow soldier and allegedly involving another soldier's estranged spouse ignited a firestorm of criticism for the Army and Defense Department's handling of her disappearance and sexual harassment and assault allegations in the military. Now, the military's "#MeToo" movement is blazing. 

In July, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley admitted that military leaders may have "missed signals" before Guillén's death. Women veterans and service members around the world began a grassroots campaign overnight, demanding justice for Guillén and for others like her. Investigations are ongoing at Fort Hood about how Guillén's case was handled. 

Guillén, 20, told her family before she went missing from Fort Hood in April that she was being sexually harassed by a fellow soldier. She went missing on April 22, last seen in the parking lot of her Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters, 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Her car keys, barracks' room key, ID and wallet were all found in the armory. 

On July 2, more than two months after she disappeared, Army Criminal Investigation Command and local law enforcement officials said human remains were found near a river. Days later, on July 5, Army officials confirmed the remains found in several shallow graves belonged to Guillén. 

 "We are at a loss for words. This should never have happened. Our country has lost a beautiful young soldier because the system is broken," Natalie Khawam, the Guillén family's attorney, told Connecting Vets on July 5.

Missing Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen was killed in armory, then dismembered, court documents say

Khawam and a criminal complaint filed in Texas court shed further light on Guillén's fate and the people officials suspect are responsible for her death. 

That criminal complaint describes Guillén's final moments according to witness statements, cell phone records and more. Khawam said Army officials told her Guillén and another soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, argued after Guillén discovered he was allegedly having an affair with the estranged wife of a former soldier, Cecily Aguilar. During that argument, Robinson allegedly bludgeoned Guillén to death with a hammer, concealed her body in a container and later disposed of her body near the Leon River with help from Aguilar, his married girlfriend. 

The night Guillén's remains were discovered, Robinson fled his barracks and Fort Hood, according to court documents. Aguilar helped law enforcement locate Robinson by calling and texting him. The next morning, as law enforcement "attempted to make contact," according to CID, Robinson "brandished a pistol and shot himself in the head," dying by suicide.

Robinson was a coworker of Guillén's, Fort Hood and CID officials said. He was not a supervisor in her chain of command and the two were not in a romantic relationship. Robinson was a small arms repairer with the Forward Support Troop, Engineer Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment. 

Aguilar, 22, was arrested the day Robinson died and charged by civilian authorities with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence in connection with Guillén's disappearance, according to a Justice Department statement about a criminal complaint. If convicted, Aguilar faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

Since her death, legislation has been filed in Congress in Guillén's honor, aiming to change how the military handles sexual harassment and assault. The Army is also working to change its AWOL policies to consider soldiers missing first, instead of "absent without leave." 

After Vanessa Guillen, Army updates policy to ensure soldiers are 'missing' before 'AWOL'

Trial delayed for woman accused in Spc. Vanessa Guillen's murder

The 'I Am Vanessa Guillen' Act will 'revolutionize' military sexual assault response, advocates say

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.
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