By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said on Wednesday that 151 sailors had been disqualified from working as sexual assault counselors and other positions as the military tries to improve how it helps victims following a string of high-profile sexual assault cases.
The sailors were disqualified mainly for lack of training after the Navy reviewed the records of about 20,000 personnel who were involved in some way with preventing sexual assault or helping victims, said Lieutenant Commander Chris Servello, a Navy spokesman.
News of the Navy action came just weeks after the Army said it had removed 588 people from positions of trust following a similar review of recruiters, drill sergeants, instructors, victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators.
The reviews were ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as the Pentagon struggles to deal with rising reports of sexual assault and a series of embarrassing sexual assault cases.
The number of reported sexual assaults has risen steadily in recent years, jumping from 3,374 in 2012 to more than 5,000 in 2013.
Many of the crimes go unreported. An annual Pentagon report estimated there were 26,000 sex crimes in the military in 2012, ranging from rape to abusive sexual contact.
"The most prevalent reason that we found was that either they didn't have documented training or they had not completed the requisite training required for whatever position they were in," said the Navy's Servello.
He said some of those disqualified could be reinstated after completing the appropriate training for the positions. He said he was not aware of any people being disqualified over allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Army review also looked at 20,000 records of people to check the suitability of people for the positions, not to take punitive action, said Lieutenant Colonel Alayne Conway, an Army spokeswoman. Of the 588, most were moved to other jobs and 79 are awaiting separation from the Army, she said.
"The Army continues to ensure that those in positions of personal trust have the right tools, skills and background needed to carry out their duties effectively," Conway said. (Editing by Lisa Shumaker)