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Military Sex Assault Reports Jump by 50 Percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of reported sexual assaults across the military shot up by more than 50 percent this year.

Defense officials suggest that victims are becoming more willing to come forward.

The increase follows a tumultuous year of scandals that shined a spotlight on the crimes and put pressure on the military to act aggressively.

A string of high profile assaults and arrests triggered outrage in Congress and set off months of debate over how to change the military justice system. Military leaders have launched several new programs to increase accountability and encourage victims to come forward.

Early data obtained by The Associated Press show there were more than 5,000 reports of sexual assaults filed in 2013, compared to fewer than 3,400 in 2012.


Obama Signs Sweeping Defense Bill

HONOLULU (AP) -- President Barack Obama has signed into law a comprehensive defense bill that cracks down on sexual assault in the military.

The White House says Obama signed the bills Thursday while vacationing in Hawaii.

The bill provides $552.1 billion for the regular military budget, plus $80.7 billion for the Afghanistan war and other overseas operations. It gives military personnel a 1 percent pay raise, but also reflects deficit-driven efforts to trim spending and the drawdown in Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting there.

The bill signing caps a yearlong campaign led by the women of the Senate to address the scourge of rape and sexual assault in the military. Under the bill, military commanders no longer will be permitted to overturn jury convictions for sexual assault.

Senate Nears Approval of Sweeping Defense Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House is expressing support for a comprehensive defense bill that cracks down on sexual assault in the military and adds new protections for victims.

The administration says that while it has problems with some provisions of the comprehensive, more than $632 billion bill, it welcomes the changes on sexual assault and increased flexibility for President Barack Obama to handle terror suspects at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The legislation would provide about $552 billion for the core military budget and more than $80 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week on a strong bipartisan vote. Senate passage is expected Thursday night.


Congress Passes Budget Deal

WASHINGTON -- Congress passes bill easing across-the-board spending cuts and threat of future shutdowns.

According to CNN, the Senate voted 64-36 on Wednesday to send the compromise federal budget framework to President Barack Obama, who has signaled his support.

Last week, the budget plan easily passed the House on a 332-94 vote, with solid majorities of both parties supporting it.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Testing Program Ramps up at Nellis AFB

LAS VEGAS -- The sequester slashed tens of billions of defense dollars bringing testing of many new military technologies to a screeching halt.

Leaders at Nellis Air Force Base say they've felt the squeeze more than most, but say there are some programs still going strong, including the F-35.

"I remember the first time strapping into that thing and it's almost surreal," said Lt. Col. Derek J. O'Malley, commander, 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

Borrowing some of the best features of the F-16, F-18, A-10, and the hovering Marine Corps Harrier, the F-35 is fast, stealthy, and packs a punch.

"Fantastic to fly, very powerful, very maneuverable, easy to handle," Lt. Col O'Malley said.

His team is told what the jet should be able to do and their job is to push it to its limits.

Hagel: All States Complying with Same-Sex Benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon says that all states are now complying with new rules allowing the same-sex spouses of military members to get ID cards in order to claim benefits.

Nine states, including Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, initially defied the Pentagon by refusing to allow National Guard facilities to issue the ID cards, triggering sharp criticism from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Officials have worked to bring all the states on board.

Hagel said in an October speech that the states' refusal to comply had created hardship for couples by forcing them to travel long distances to federal military bases to get the ID cards.

Under Pentagon policy that took effect Sept. 3, same-sex military spouses are eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses.


Operation Warmheart Provides Help to Military Families

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - Nearly 300 military families in southern Nevada will have a happier holiday thanks to Operation Warmheart's Adopt a Family toy drive.

Volunteers will be working tirelessly to spread Christmas cheer to the valley's military families.

Operation Warmheart is made up of military members who help their fellow airmen. So far, organizers have collected a hangar full of toys for 270 families or more than 500 children.

"My favorite part is just seeing the faces of the people, the relief, and to be able to assist them and provide that need for them," said MSgt. Kenisea Wiley.

Operation Warmheart will distribute all the presents next week.