Army rules Vanessa Guillen death as 'in line of duty,' grants benefits
By HEATHER OSBOURNE | Austin American-Statesman | Published: October 21, 2020
AUSTIN, Texas — Fort Hood officials on Tuesday said the family of U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen received word that the Army classified the soldier's death as "in the line of duty."
Army officials spoke with the Guillen family of Houston, saying the new classification would allow them to receive Army benefits on behalf of the 20-year-old who is thought to have been killed by a fellow soldier on post, Fort Hood officials said in a written statement.
Typically, those benefits include compensation to help the family with expenses, a funeral with full military honors, life insurance and final pay and allowances.
However, the Guillen family will not utilize the funeral offered to them by the Army because the soldier was buried in August.
Guillen was last seen while working in a Fort Hood weapons room in April. Her dismembered remains were found a few months later near the Leon River in Bell County.
Investigators believe a fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, beat Guillen to death with a hammer the morning of April 22.
Robinson fatally shot himself July 1 when local authorities confronted him off post, Killeen police have said.
Authorities have accused Robinson's 22-year-old girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar of Killeen, of helping Robinson dismember, burn and bury Guillen's body about 20 miles from the post. Aguilar has been charged in federal court with conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
The soldier's family continuously called for a congressional investigation into Fort Hood's handling of the case, saying Army officials failed to property search for the missing soldier, identify suspects or take allegations that Guillen was sexually harassed by fellow soldiers seriously.
While U.S. Army officials say no substantive evidence proves Guillen was sexually harassed, the family's allegations led to the viral hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen, which inspired former and active service members to share stories of sexual misconduct in the military.
Several investigations are ongoing at Fort Hood, looking into leadership and how they handle cases of missing soldiers and sexual assault claims.
The Guillen case reached the White House in July, when President Donald Trump invited the family to share their grievances with him in person.
Trump during the meeting promised resources to help look into the family's complaints involving Guillen's case and that of other slain soldiers.
He also offered to help pay for Guillen's funeral expenses, but the family explained that the service and burial costs were already covered.
The family added that they did not want to have a military funeral, but one that honored the soldier's personality and heritage.
The Guillen family instead held a private ceremony in their hometown of Houston.
The soldier was placed in a casket painted with her name, accompanied by an American flag, Mexico's coat of arms and, to represent her favorite sport, a soccer ball.
Army officials on Tuesday said they remain in contact with the Guillen family to keep them informed of additional actions being taken at Fort Hood.