Another member of the Armed Services panel, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said the special counsel "will help encourage victims to come forward to seek justice, and it will help ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes."
The bill also would change the military's Article 32 proceedings to limit intrusive questioning of victims, making it more similar to a grand jury, a change backed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Boxer said the changes will ensure "that victims of sexual assault are not put on trial simply for making the courageous decision to pursue justice."
The congressional effort was marked by one of the most contentious hearings, when senators dressed down senior military leaders and insisted that sexual assault in the military had cost the services the trust and respect of the American people as well as the nation's men and women in uniform.
Summoned to Capitol Hill in June, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the beribboned four-star chiefs of the service branches conceded in an extraordinary hearing that they had faltered in dealing with sexual assault. One said assaults were "like a cancer" in the military.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, especially Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and McCaskill, grilled the chiefs about whether the military's mostly male leadership understands differences between relatively minor sexual offenses and serious crimes that deserve swift and decisive justice.
"Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is. Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all of these crimes together," Gillibrand said.
The legislation does not include a contentious proposal from Gillibrand to give victims of rape and sexual assault in the military an independent route outside the chain of command for prosecuting attackers, taking the authority away from commanders.