If you have a problem involving a federal agency, including one of the branches of the military, you may request assistance from your United States senator or Congressional representative. If you are on active duty in any of the armed services, you have the same right to communicate with your elected representative as any other American citizen without fear of punishment or retaliation.
Military Whistleblower Protection Act
Your right to communicate with members of Congress is protected by the Military Whistleblower Protection Act found in Title 10 U.S. Code section 1034. The act protects service members who file congressional complaints from demotion, discharge or other negative actions. An exception is for unlawful communications, including threats or bribes. However, a decision by the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces – United States vs. Gorgas – allows military judges to consider statements of guilt made to congressional representatives to be considered in criminal sentencing proceedings.
Appropriate Issues for Congressional Representatives
Congressional representatives cannot help you with issues related to state agencies or private individuals, nor can they provide legal advice or represent you in court proceedings. Their function is to inquire about issues related to any federal agency, including a branch of the military, and to assist in resolving the issue, if possible. Appropriate issues for congressional complaints include fraud, mismanagement, discrimination, sexual harassment or violation of military regulations, among others.
Which Representative Can Help
As a rule, members of Congress can only assist with complaints from their own constituents. In general, you should contact the representative of the district where you vote, even if you vote by absentee ballot. The location of your current duty station does not matter when it comes to determining which representative to contact. For example, if the incident occurred at your duty station in Texas but you vote and pay income taxes in Ohio, you should contact your representative in Ohio.
Format of the Complaint
A congressional complaint is basically a business letter in which you clearly describe the issue and ask for specific information and assistance. Some offices ask you to submit the letter by email or online, while others prefer you to mail a paper copy to them. Always include your full name, Social Security number, branch of service, duty station and permanent address in your letter.
Privacy Act Statement
You must download a Privacy Act statement from the representative’s website, sign it and submit it by U.S. mail before the representative's office can make inquiries on your behalf. Even if you submitted the congressional complaint online or by email, mail a paper copy along with the Privacy Act statement and any other documents that might be helpful to the representative. Locate the appropriate mailing address on the representative’s website, which may be found by accessing the websites of the United States Senate or the United States House of Representatives.
What to Expect
A member of the representative's staff, called a caseworker, attaches a cover letter from the representative to your letter and forwards it to the appropriate military command. The command forwards this packet to an action officer for response within five days. The caseworker will also mail a copy of the response to you for comment. If necessary, the caseworker may request further information from the military, but the representative cannot direct the military to take any particular action.
This article was written by Legal Beagle staff. If you have any questions, please reach out to us on our contact us page.