Congressman Joe Sestak's National Security Accomplishments/Future Proposals
I am proud to have worn the "cloth of our nation" for 31 years, and to be the son of a Navy Captain who fought in World War II.
More than three decades ago, I followed in the footsteps of my dad and graduated from the United Stated Naval Academy, embarking on an extremely rewarding experience:
When I entered our military at the height of the Vietnam War, based upon public surveys, our military was ranked as the lowest in public confidence. Ratchet ahead 35 years, based upon similar surveys, our all-volunteer military is now the most respected of all our public institutions. We who have worn the cloth, have served to defend America's freedoms and ideals and to fight, if necessary, the wars which defend those freedoms fundamental principles.
- from being assigned as a young ensign to the U.S.S. Richard E. Byrd, my first ship
- to my first command as captain of the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts (named the best ship in the Atlantic Fleet);
- to being selected as President Clinton's Director of Defense Policy on the National Security Council in the White House;
- to being chosen, after 9/11, as the First Director of "Deep Blue", the Navy's anti-terrorism unit;
to taking command of the U.S.S. George Washington carrier battle group (30 ships, 100 aircraft, and 15,000 Sailors/Aviators/Marines/SEALs) that conducted combat operations in Afghanistan and precursor combat operations to the war in Iraq;
- to being the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations responsible for the Navy's $70 Billion Warfare Programs;
- to now being the senior military veteran in Congress, and the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to Congress.
Through all of those operational commands and senior diplomatic engagements in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Europe and Africa, I understood that there is no higher honor, responsibility and accountability that our nation can bestow, than to lead our young men and women in to harm's way; and to ensure that our military's excellence continue; and, that our veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned.
That is why -- as the senior military veteran in the House of Representatives or Senate and the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to Congress -- I fought to serve on the Armed Services Committee to best use my experience and knowledge to help secure America's overall defense security.
Towards that goal, I have been a leading figure on the defining defense issues of our time: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the continuing Global War on Terror.
IRAQ WAR and GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR
Whatever one thinks about the decision to go into Iraq, I believe it is imperative, having worn the "cloth of this nation" for 31 years, that we support the men and women who now wear the cloth of this nation, and are willing to sacrifice everything to defend our country and the ideals we represent, until they can be safely redeployed.
I have said that we need to end this war with a date that is certain, and I still believe that. While our troops have served our country courageously and brilliantly, our engagement in Iraq has degraded America's overall national security so severely that we cannot confront other pressing security challenges at home and abroad.
Today, 40 percent of all U.S. Army equipment is in Iraq. Because of our commitment to Iraq, there is no Army unit now at home in a state of readiness able to deploy anywhere in the world another contingency might occur. For example, we would not be able to reinforce the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if they were to be attacked.
Also, our troops are not ready, nor are they trained for other crises that might occur - nor have they been for three years, as all of their training has been in counter-insurgency during that period of time.
Of particular concern, it is clear we have lost ground in the fight to secure peace in Afghanistan as the Taliban have regained strength in the ungoverned provinces, and Al-Qaeda now has - in the words of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael Hayden - a "safe haven" in the porous border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
For those reasons, that is why I want to end this war and the horrific costs to our warriors -- such as the 30% of our soldiers returning with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) -- and the inability to invest in our health, education, economic and other challenges. -- but we must do it in the right way.
During my first term in office, I voted to continue funding for our troops because previously approved funding for our troops was to run out in mid-July, and we could not safely redeploy our troops from Iraq in a time frame that is shorter than 15-24 months. That is the time that it will take to get more than 140,000 troops and 95,000 foreign contractors out, safely. Therefore, I voted to provide our troops the material and the equipment that they need to protect themselves. Many would like Congress to force the President to take action, as do I. Realistically, however, the votes to achieve this are not there and, as importantly, I do not believe that we should put the troops between Congress and the President because if nothing is done, the funding for their safety would end while they are still in combat.
Let me expand further. The departure from Iraq must be well planned, and a safe redeployment from Iraq will be lengthy. It will take 15-24 months or more to end our involvement in Iraq safely, as I will explain below:
A number of factors determine the time frame. Moving 140,000- plus troops and 95,000 foreign contractors out of Iraq and closing down our bases will be a major logistical challenge. To complete the redeployment, it is necessary to close or turnover more than 68 Forward Operating Bases, and then to transfer all of the troops and the equipment more than 350 miles down the road to Kuwait. This means transporting more than 235,000 people, tanks and other heavy equipment the distance from one end of Pennsylvania to the other -- but in a "non-permissive" (combat) environment.
And this difference is critical. The territory is hostile, and the troops and the equipment must be protected. It will be important to balance how many bases to close at one time with calculations about surrounding strife as our troops must close the bases while protecting themselves. Recently, the Army has indicated it believes a safe re-deployment would allow closing about four bases at a time. Of course, this could change based on an assessment of stability in the area.
For each base, there are many tons of ammunition, vehicles, repair stations, parts and fuel which must be safely prepared for transport - demanding time and protection. It takes different lengths of time to pack-up, close, and environmentally remediate bases, depending upon their size. On average, the medium-sized base could take from 120 to 150 days. Some bases might be "turned over" to the Iraqis once key equipment has been removed, but many of these same functions still must be performed.
Redeployment also is the most vulnerable of military operations, particularly in this case, where there is really only a single road -- "Road Tampa" -- leading from Iraq to Kuwait. Such vulnerability is why, in 1993, after "Blackhawk Down" in Somalia, it took six months to extract our 6,300 troops safely -- but only after inserting another 19,000 to protect their redeployment.
Finally, in Kuwait, the receiving facilities to "retrograde" -- clean and package vehicles for customs and shipment back to the United States -- can handle only about 2 brigade combat teams (BCTs) at a time, and there are currently 40 BCT-equivalents in Iraq.
During the period required for safe redeployment of troops, I also believe that America must pursue diplomatic efforts with regional nations to bring about the political changes within Iraq necessary for ongoing stability. In particular, this must include such efforts as direct engagement with Iran and Syria. These two countries presently are involved destructively in the war. According to our intelligence community, however, these nations want stability in Iraq after our departure and, therefore, can play a constructive role. This was demonstrated most recently where Iran had a significant role in stopping the strife in Basra.
Renewing diplomatic efforts will require bi-partisan efforts. The Democratic leadership must begin to help author a comprehensive regional security plan that accepts the necessity for a deliberate redeployment. In turn, the Republican leadership must accept that the U.S. government must also work diplomatically with Iran and Syria during this deliberate redeployment.
I believe that it is only through safe redeployment and renewed diplomatic efforts that we will be able to achieve what is best for our national security.
In summary, I have always believed that the war in Iraq was a tragic misadventure that should never have occurred. Furthermore, it is very evident that we did not adequately plan before we went into Iraq. Now -- just as I did when I decided to run for Congress -- I believe the best route forward is to provide a date that is "certain" to end the war with the necessary funds to support our troops, while simultaneously providing the strategic direction for redeployment out of Iraq and commencement of a comprehensive diplomatic effort.
Please be assured that I am working every day to bring this conflict to an end, safely, for America's overall national security. We must stop pouring our national treasure of lives and money into the war in Iraq and begin the process of rebuilding our domestic economy, restoring our educational institutions, addressing our healthcare needs, creating a comprehensive energy and environmental action plan, and providing for other areas of our defense security.
On defense legislation, I have diligently worked on and used my 31-year military expertise to be a leading advocate for the following key pieces of legislation that have benefited our currently serving troop, as well as our veterans to whom much is owed for their dedication and service:
A. Troop Legislation:
B. Veterans' Legislation.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5658, the FY 2009 Defense Authorization, which contains numerous provisions to help restore our nation's military readiness; provides additional equipment to protect our troops in harm's way; provides a 3.9% military pay raises; extends the prohibitions on increased premiums and co-pays for TRICARE recipients and increased user fees for the TRICARE retail pharmacy program; and contains provisions to reform military contracting; by a bipartisan vote of 384-23, with 181 Republicans voting YEA. The President has threatened to veto.
- Voted for, and passed, H.R. 6599, the FY 2009 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act:
The legislation focuses resources on improving the quality of life for military personnel and their families, and on increasing the amount of assistance that the VA can offer to the men and women who have defended our nation. The legislation, which passed the House by a 409-4 margin, allocates $72.7 billion, $8.8 billion more than fiscal year 2008 and $3.4 million more than the President's request.
- -We have a moral obligation to ensure that the men and women who wear the cloth of this nation receive the best possible treatment for themselves and their families both during and after their service. This legislation recognizes areas that require improvement and provides critical funds to meet these needs, including billions of dollars for military housing, and resources that allow the VA to offer more medical services to more Veterans, particularly in the area of mental health care.
- -The legislation extends the prohibitions on increased premiums and co-pays for TRICARE recipients and increased user fees for the TRICARE retail pharmacy program. This will save beneficiaries $1.2 billion in healthcare costs.
- -The bill also establishes a series of projects that focus on preventive care in order to reduce the need for care required by service members, rather than reducing the amount of care available or the size of the beneficiary population. Preventive care initiatives include:
- --A demonstration project to provide an allowance for individuals to seek preventive health services. Service members and their families would be paid for fulfilling all of the preventive health requirements set forth by DOD;
- --Waivers of co-payments for preventive services for all TRICARE beneficiaries;
- --A program to assist TRICARE beneficiaries with quitting smoking, to include classes, support and nicotine replacement therapy; and,
- --A demonstration project for self-reported health risk assessments of TRICARE Prime participants. Incentives are authorized to encourage enrollees to participate in the project.
- -The bill also apportions $24.8 billion to improve facilities, including $336 million not requested by the President that continues a quality of life initiative for troops and their families. Established by the 2008 supplemental bill, this program supports building new trainee and recruit housing facilities for the Army and Marine Corps, and upgrading medical treatment facilities. *-An additional $3.2 billion is appropriated to further eliminate inadequate military housing.
- -Building on the largest ever increase in VA funding that the Congressman supported a year ago, this legislation provides $47.7 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, covering specific enhancements to medical treatment for Veterans as well as construction projects that will allow for more Veterans to receive services. The Veterans Health Administration estimates that they will treat more than 5.8 million patients in 2009, including more than 333,275 who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. The $30.9 billion allocated for medical services ($1 billion more than the President's request) will permit enrollment of Priority 8 Veterans, starting at ten percent of those in that category. An estimated one half of all uninsured Veterans are Priority 8, but these Veterans have not been enrolled since 2003 as part of an effort to cut costs.
- -The medical services funding also focuses on two areas of growing concern: mental health and homelessness. This bill appropriates $3.8 billion for specialty mental health care and $584 million for substance abuse programs. To address homelessness, this act builds on the Homes for Heroes Act, which the Congressman supported to establish a supportive housing program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for low-income veterans. The appropriations bill provides $130 million for the homeless grants and per diem program, rejecting the President's $8 million cut, and includes $32 million to hire additional personnel for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program.
- -Mental health and homelessness are two issues that are not going away. Thousands of troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, and more Veterans of the current wars are falling into homelessness faster than we have seen in any prior conflicts. It is imperative that we continue to devote as many resources as possible to combating these serious problems.
- -The legislation also designates $5 billion for medical facilities, $368 million above the President's request and $769 million above 2008. It includes a $300 million increase for on-going maintenance and renovations of existing facilities to address identified shortfalls and to ensure the Department's facilities remain capable of delivering world class medicine. The Department currently estimates a maintenance backlog of more than $5 billion. Furthermore, $165 million is dedicated to Extended Care Facilities, paying for grants to States for construction and renovation of extended care facilities. The funding level will meet identified life/safety needs and still provide funding for construction of additional new facilities.
- -The legislation provides tuition assistance and training opportunities for those spouses seeking degrees or careers that are portable, such as nursing, mental health providers and financial educators, as they move with their military spouse from station to station.
- -The bill also includes provisions so that when both military parents are deployed simultaneously, the bill authorizes DOD to pay a portion of a second family separation allowance.
- -Other funding provisions in the bill that passed today include:
- --For Military Construction:
- --2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and Re-stationing: $9.1 billion, $1.8 billion above 2008 and the same as the President's request, to implement base closures and realignments, and support the re-stationing of 70,000 troops and their families from overseas to the United States. The bill also funds planning for the eventual relocation of 8,000 marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam.
- --Growing the Force: $5.6 billion in military construction and family housing, to support the Administration's program to increase the size of the Army by 65,000, the Marine Corps by 27,000, and the Guard and Reserve by 9,200 personnel.
- --1990 BRAC: $473 million, $178 million above 2008 and $80 million above the President's request, to address an estimated $3.5 billion backlog in needed environmental cleanup for bases that were closed during the four previous BRAC rounds as identified in most recent Defense Environmental Programs Annual Report. new facilities.
- --For the Department of Veterans Affairs:
- ---Fee-Based Care: $200 million, not requested by the President and not funded in 2008, for fee-based services to improve access to care where VHA services are not available.
- ---Beneficiary Travel: $100 million above the President's request to increase the beneficiary travel reimbursement rate from 28.5 cents per mile to 41.5 cents per mile.
- ***New Generation Prosthetics: $1.6 billion, $250 million above 2008 and $116 million above the President's request, to provide veterans with appropriate prosthetic support given recent advances in technology.
- ---Medical Support and Compliance: $4.4 billion, $144 million above the President's request and $338 million above 2008, to ensure the efficient operation of the Department's health care system and to support plans to increase enrollment of Priority 8 veterans by 10 percent.
Medical and Prosthetic Research: $500 million, rejecting the President's $38 million cut and $20 million above 2008, for research to help improve the quality of life for injured and aging veterans. Restores the cuts to trauma and mental health research - important to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
- ---Major and Minor Construction: $1.9 billion, rejecting the President's $788 million cut and $215 million above 2008, to fulfill the Department's commitment to fund recommendations made by the Capitol Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES), which was established to look at facilities and determine their construction needs. The increase in minor construction will enable the Department to complete 145 projects in fiscal year 2009.
- ---General Operating Expenses: $1.8 billion, $102 million above the President's request and $197 million above 2008, to enable the Department to hire roughly 2,100 additional claims processors to work down the backlog of benefits claims and to reduce the time to process new claims. The most recent VA quarterly status report estimates that nearly 396,000 claims are pending which is 20,000 more than their goal.
- ---Information Technology: $2.5 billion, $232 million above 2008 and $50 million above the President's request, for an emergency fund to address critical unplanned needs at medical facilities.
- ---Inspector General: $87.8 million, rejecting the President's $4 million cut and $7.3 million above 2008, to provide additional personnel for oversight activities, including inspections of community based outpatient clinics and VA Centers.
- --Other funding provisions in the bill include:
- ---For related agencies:
- ----American Battle Monuments Commission: $55.5 million, $11 million above 2008 and $8 million above the President's request. This funding provides for the care and operation of our military monuments and cemeteries around the world.
- ----United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims: $73.98 million, $51 million above 2008 and $50 million above the President's request, for the acquisition of a new facility for the Court.
- ----Cemeterial Expenses: $31.2 million, matching 2008 and the President's request, for Arlington cemetery.
Armed Forces Retirement Home: $63 million from the Trust Fund, the same as the President's request, for operation and maintenance of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, including $8 million for capital expenditures at the DC campus.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 4986, the final version of the FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill, which was identical to the earlier bill except that it responded to the President's veto by including a revised provision on legal claims against the Iraqi government. Like the earlier version, the bill contained numerous readiness initiatives to strengthen our military, contained the Wounded Warrior Act to improve the care of returning wounded troops, and contains a 3.5% military pay raise. The legislation also prohibited the Administration from instituting increases in the TRICARE and pharmacy user fees, which the Administration again proposed to do in the midst of a war. This measure also provides resources that take care of our service members and their families by ensuring that our wounded service members receive the best health care possible by providing the people, training and oversight mechanisms needed; and providing our soldiers with quality medical health care by investing in the Mental Health Initiative and the Traumatic Brain Injury Initiative to tackle the growing problem of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (The President signed the bill on January 28, 2008).
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 1538, the Wounded Warriors Act, which responded to the Walter Reed scandal by improving the care of injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, I authored two amendments to this important piece of legislation, which will improve mental health care for our wounded soldiers:
- *The first amendment highlights the fact that mental health care is an essential component to the medical services offered to our Veterans and the members of our Armed Services by clarifying that `medical care' as defined in H.R. 1538 includes mental health care services.
- *The second amendment requires the Secretary of the Department of Defense to develop a plan to help prevent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other stress-related psychopathologies (including substance abuse conditions) from developing in our military service members. In addition, it requires the Secretary to submit to Congress within 180 days a plan for establishing a Peer-Reviewed research program within the Defense Health Program's research and development function to research the prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and how to best strengthen the psychological resiliency of our military service members.
- -The legislation also requires the VA to carry out a demonstration program in at least 3 locations on preventing veterans at-risk of homelessness from becoming homeless. $2 million would be appropriated through fiscal year 2011 for this program.
- --The VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and nearly 400,000 veterans experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country. According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients, veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America.
- --According to the VA, its homeless assistance and treatment network reaches more than 100,000 veterans annually. However, this number represents 25% of homeless veterans leaving 300,000 veterans who must seek assistance from local government agencies and service organizations in their communities. Clearly, Congress must do more to honor and help our brave servicemen and servicewomen.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 6081, Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act (HEART Act), which provides $1.2 billion in targeted tax breaks to military personnel and their families, including tax relief under the Earned Income Tax Credit, clarifies the availability of recovery rebates for military families, and expands homeownership opportunities for veterans.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 3625, HEROS Act, which makes permanent the Secretary of Education's authority to provide U.S. troops called to active duty with higher education relief, including providing them more leeway on repaying their student loans, by voice vote. The President signed the bill on September 30, 2007.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 3793, the Veterans' Guaranteed Bonus Act, which fully addresses the military bonus problems highlighted by the Dole-Shalala Commission - providing essential financial security to our wounded servicemen and women by guaranteeing full payment of bonuses earned and owed to them, by a unanimous vote of 405-0, with 189 Republicans voting YEA.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 4044, National Guard and Reservists Debt Relief Act, which makes it easier for members of the National Guard and Reserves called up for active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, who are often required to leave small businesses behind and jobs behind at a moment's notice, to file for bankruptcy, by exempting them from the means test requirements of the 2005 Bankruptcy Law, by voice vote.
I have also diligently worked on and been a leading advocate for the following key pieces of legislation that benefits our veterans:
ESTABLISHED THE FIRST 7th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT VETERANS' SUMMIT (NOW AN ANNUAL EVENT) AND VETERANS' ADISORY COMMITTEE
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 2642, the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008, that gave our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan the materials they need to be safe by allotting more than $160 billion to the Department of Defense and supported expanded GI Benefits for Veterans education. While the war in Iraq is a tragic misadventure that must end, but in the appropriate way, I voted for funding necessary to protect the troops until they can be safely redeployed. The legislation includes other important measures to benefit our troops abroad, through policy provisions that require the Iraqi government to take more responsibility for their country's security, and at home, through appropriations for military construction and Veterans hospitals. Whatever one thinks about the decision to go into Iraq and the consequences of this war, it is imperative that while they are deployed in combat we support the men and women who wear the cloth of this nation and are willing to sacrifice everything to defend our country and the ideals we represent. I will always vote to fund our troops-until we can set either a date certain and are fully redeployed from Iraq (which I support) -and will continue to fight to assure that they are given every opportunity to succeed when they return to civilian life through measures such as the GI Bill that Congress passed.
- -The legislation provided $165.4 billion to support our troops while still engaged in combat in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $99.5 billion of which is allocated for 2008 and $65.9 billion for 2009.
- -The legislation also improved US policy in Iraq by requiring that State Department and USAID reconstruction aid be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Iraqi Government.
- -The legislation further provides $4.6 billion, $2.2 billion above the President's request, to fully fund military quality of life initiatives - including funding for military child care centers, military hospitals and VA hospitals that the President announced in the State of the Union but never funded.
- --It provides an additional $863 million over the President's request for military hospitals, in order to prevent the types of problems that faced Walter Reed.
It provides an additional $396 million over the President's request for VA hospitals and VA poly trauma centers.
- --In addition, it provides an additional $210 million for military child care centers. In his State of the Union, President Bush called for additional funding for military child care centers, but then neglected to include this funding in his budget.
- -The legislation provides for a new GI Bill, which fully restores GI education benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to the level available after World War II.
- --The new GI bill restores full, four-year college scholarships to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to help make them part of an economic recovery like the veterans of World War II.
- --It will give our returning troops the tools to succeed after military service and make military service more attractive as we work to rebuild our military, and strengthen our sagging economy.
- --Under the new GI bill, service members returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, who have served 3 years on active duty, would receive benefits to cover the costs of a four-year education up to the level of the most expensive in-state public school.
- --Education benefits would be available to troops who have served at least 3 months of active duty since September 11, 2001, including members of the National Guard and Reserve.
- --The bill also allows service members with six years of service, coupled with an additional service agreement of four years, to transfer their educational benefits to their spouses and dependents.
- --The new GI bill is broadly supported by all major veterans' organizations, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
- Voted for FY 2008 Military Construction-Veterans' Affairs Appropriations, which provides the largest increase in veterans' funding in the 77-year history of the VA, targeted on ensuring that our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan receive the quality health care that they deserve. (The Military Construction-Veterans' Affairs Appropriations provisions - providing the largest increase in veterans' funding in history - were ultimately included in the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill, PL 110-161.) H.R. 2642 - amendment to Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008 - Included a provision to expand GI benefits for Veterans' education. Expands the education benefits that Veterans receive under the GI Bill to restore a promise of a four year education to make the Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan part of Americas economic recovery, just like the Veterans of WW II were. The amendment passed the House on May 23, 2008.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 327, Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which requires a comprehensive VA program to reduce suicides among veterans, including suicide prevention counselors at VA medical facilities and 24-hour mental health care for at-risk veterans.
- -This Act would require the Veterans' Affairs (VA) to regularly screen and monitor all veterans who receive medical care in the VA for risk factors for suicide.
- -It would also require VA to provide for referral of veterans at risk for suicide for appropriate counseling and treatment. Furthermore, this Act would require VA to designate a suicide prevention counselor at each VA Medical Center.
- -The Act would also require VA to research the best practices for suicide prevention among veterans, including best practices for helping veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma.
- -Additionally, it would require VA to provide for the availability of 24-hour mental health care for veterans and to establish a 24 hour hot line for veterans to call if needed. I am, however, disappointed that the final version of the Senate bill omitted a provision a tracking system to monitor the wellbeing of veterans, which I voted for and supported in the House version of the bill. The President signed the bill on November 5, 2007 (PL 110-110).
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 4253, Reservist and Veterans Small Business Opportunity Act, which expands small business opportunities for veterans and helps military reservists, keep their businesses afloat during and after deployment, by voice vote. The President signed the bill on February 14, 2008 (PL 110-186). This Legislation provides America's veterans and reservists with some of the economic security they deserve by:
- -Strengthening federal efforts to expand opportunities for veteran-owned businesses;
- -Providing new small business loans and expanding outreach to veteran-owned small businesses;
- -Strengthening relief to small businesses employing National Guard or Reserve troops
- Voted for, and passed the H.R. 1284, Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, which increased, effective December 1, 2007, the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the dependency and indemnity benefits for families of disabled veterans. The President signed the bill on November 5, 2007 (PL 110-111).
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 995, Extending Charter for Disabled Veterans Memorial, which extended the charter for the Disabled Veterans Memorial, which expired on October 31, until 2015, allowing the time to raise the private resources and navigate the approval process to bring this memorial to life on the National Mall.. The President signed the bill on October 25, 2007 (PL 110-106).
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 692, Federal Flag Code Amendment Act, which provides that all federal buildings in a state have to comply when the governor orders the American flag lowered to half-staff in honor of soldiers killed while serving. The President signed the bill on June 29, 2007 (PL 110-41).
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5554, Veterans Substance Abuse Treatment Act, which requires the VA to provide the full continuum of care for substance use disorders at every VA medical center, including providing drug screening, detoxification, relapse prevention and counseling for veterans, by voice vote.
- Co-sponsored, voted for and passed H.R. 3329, Homes for Heroes Act, which provides shelter for homeless veterans and their families, and will help prevent low-income families from falling into homelessness.
- -According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, on any given night there are 200,000 homeless Veterans in America, and nearly 400,000 could experience homelessness at some point within the year.
- -Legislation establishes a supportive housing program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for low-income veterans. The bill authorizes $200 million in FY 2008 for an assistance program at HUD for supportive housing and services for low-income veterans. The bill authorizes grants to nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives to expand the supply of permanent housing for low-income veterans and their families and to provide supportive services through such housing to support the needs of such veteran families.
- -Legislation establishes the position of Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs at HUD to coordinate services to homeless veterans and serve as a liaison to the Department of Veterans Affairs, state and local officials, and nonprofit service organizations.
- -Legislation establishes a $200 million assistance program for supportive housing and services for low-income veterans and expands the highly successful HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, authorizing 20,000 rental vouchers for Veterans annually and making the program permanent.
- -Legislation authorizes $1 million in HUD grants to assist housing and service providers with the execution of their housing projects for veterans assisted by HUD, fulfilling the planning and application process, and assisting veterans in obtaining permanent housing or homeless assistance.
- -Finally, the legislation requires HUD to submit a comprehensive annual report to Congress on the housing needs of homeless veterans and the steps HUD has taken under the programs provided for in the bill.
- -This legislation has been endorsed by numerous Veterans organizations including the American Legion Auxiliary, AMVETS, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5856, VA Medical Construction, which authorizes $2.1 billion in FY 2009 for several VA medical facility construction projects, as well as for medical facility leases.
- Co-sponsored, voted for and passed H.R. 3819, Veterans Emergency Care Reimbursement, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to reimburse veterans receiving emergency treatment in non-Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, by a unanimous vote of 412-0, with 187 Republicans voting YEA. H.R. 3819 - Amends the U.S. Code to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reimburse veterans receiving emergency treatment in non-Department of Veterans Affairs facilities for such treatment until such veterans are transferred to Department facilities, and for other purposes.
Voted for, and passed H.R. 5826, Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, which increases, effective December 1, 2008, the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the dependency and indemnity benefits for families of disabled veterans, by a unanimous vote of 417-0, with 195 Republicans voting YEA.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 4253 - Provides America's veterans and reservists some of the economic security they deserve by:
- -Strengthening federal efforts to expand opportunities for veteran-owned businesses;
- -Providing new small business loans and expanding outreach to veteran-owned small businesses;
- -Strengthening relief to small businesses employing National Guard or Reserve troops;
Became law February 14, 2008
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 6081 - Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act (Heart Act) - Addresses tax issues to reduce economic problems for military families. Awaiting President's signature
- Co-sponsored H.R. 2818 - Amends the U.S. Code to provide for the establishment of Epilepsy Centers of Excellence in the Veterans Health Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs. June 11, 2008 reported to House for consideration.
- Co-sponsored, voted for and passed H.R. 2790 - Amends the U.S. Code to establish the position of Director of Physician Assistant Services within the office of the Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 3221 - American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 - Helps Veterans and service members by increasing Veterans Affairs Home Loan limits for high-cost housing areas so that our Veterans have access to more opportunities for homeownership. Also helps our returning soldiers avoid foreclosure by lengthening the time a lender must wait before starting foreclosure, from three months to one year after a soldier returns from service.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 3681 - Amends the U.S. Code to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to advertise in the national media to promote awareness of benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.
- Co-sponsored, voted for and passed H.R. 3819 - Amends the U.S. Code to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reimburse veterans receiving emergency treatment in non-Department of Veterans Affairs facilities for such treatment until such veterans are transferred to Department facilities, and for other purposes.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 3889 - Amends the U.S. Code to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a longitudinal study of the vocational rehabilitation programs administered by the Secretary.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 4169 - To authorize the placement in Arlington National Cemetery of an American Braille tactile flag honoring blind members of the Armed Forces, Veterans, and other Americans.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5554 - Amends the U.S. Code to expand and improve health care services available to Veterans from the Department of Veterans Affairs for substance use disorders, and for other purposes.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5664 - Amends the U.S. Code to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to update at least once every six years the plans and specifications for specially adapted housing furnished to Veterans by the Secretary.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5729 - Amends the U.S. Code to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide comprehensive health care to children of Vietnam veterans born with Spina Bifida, and for other purposes.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5826 - To increase, effective as of December 1, 2008, the rates of disability compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors of certain service-connected disabled veterans, and for other purposes.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 5856 - To authorize major medical facility projects and major medical facility leases for the Department of Veterans Affairs for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 6048 - To amend the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act to provide for the protection of child custody arrangements for parents who are members of the Armed Forces and deployed in support of a contingency operation.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 2874, the Veterans' Health Care Improvement Act of 2007, which allocates $25 million to supportive services for very low-income veteran families who are transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing.
- Voted for the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act, which ensures that a governmental unit that has a mortgage loan program may not deny a disabled veteran the benefits of such program because the veteran is or was a bankruptcy debtor. The Bankruptcy Code currently prohibits various forms of discrimination against bankruptcy debtors by governmental units and others, including a denial of a student grant, loan, loan guarantee, or loan insurance to someone because he or she is or was a bankruptcy debtor.
- Co-sponsor of H.R. 649, the Blind Veterans Fairness Act, which seeks to give additional funding for blind veterans.
- Voted for, and passed H.R. 612, the Returning Service Member VA Healthcare Insurance Act. This bill seeks to extend from two to five years following discharge or release the eligibility period for veterans who serviced in combat to receive hospital care, medical services or nursing home care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Co-sponsored the Make our Veterans Smile Act, which provide non-service-connected dental services and treatment and related dental appliances to all veterans with a service-connected disability. (Current law requires the Secretary to provide such services and treatment only to veterans with service-connected disabilities rated as total.)
- Voted for the Rural Veterans Health Care Access Act of 2007, establishes and implements a pilot program to provide mental health counseling services to eligible veterans at non-Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities. Defines "eligible veteran" as one who: (1) served on active duty in support of a contingency operation; (2) is eligible to receive hospital care and medical services; (3) has been diagnosed with a mental health condition and recommended to receive mental health counseling; and (4) resides at least 30 miles from a VA medical facility that employs a full-time mental health professional. Requires the Secretary to issue to an eligible veteran a six-month supply of vouchers to be used to pay for counseling (including family counseling) services provided by the mental health provider.
Co-sponsored, the Veterans Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2008 reimburses certain veterans without a service-connected disability enrolled as active participants of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care plan for the cost of emergency treatment received in a non-VA facility until such time as such veterans are transferred to a VA facility; Requires (current law authorizes) the Secretary to reimburse certain veterans with a service-connected disability or a non-service-connected disability associated with or aggravating a service-connected disability for the value of emergency treatment for which such veterans have made payment from sources other than the VA.
- Voted for, and passed the Reservist and Veterans' Small Business Opportunity Act, which expands small business opportunities for veterans and helps military reservists keep their business afloat during and after deployment.
Co-sponsored H.R. 784, a bill which would amend the federal provisions relating to the military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to change the effective date (October 1, 2008, to October 1, 2007) so that retired SBP enrollees who are 70 years old and who have paid SBP premiums for at least 30 years will be able to stop paying premiums, while retaining SBP coverage for their survivors. This bill was referred to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, where it awaits further action.
- Co-sponsored the Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act of 2008, which prohibits the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from collecting debts owed to the United States by certain veterans who die as a result of a service-connected disability incurred or aggravated on active duty in a war after the Persian Gulf War or a combat zone after September 11, 2001, if the Secretary determines, in his or her discretion, that the termination of collection is in the best interest of the United States.
- Co-sponsored H.R. 1222, the Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees Act.
- -The legislation would provide Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) coverage to the following eligible beneficiaries:
- -- member or former member of the Armed Forces entitled to military retired or retainer pay;
- --an unremarried former spouse who was married to a member for at least 20 years, during which such member performed at least 20 years of retirement-creditable military service;
- --a dependent of a deceased qualifying member or former member; a dependent of a living member or former member; and,
- --a family member.
- -This legislation would also reimburse such eligible persons for pharmacy benefits received from a pharmacy that is not a military managed health care plan (TRICARE) network pharmacy in the same manner as a TRICARE network pharmacy. H.R. 1222 was referred to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Upon taking office, I established a Local Veterans' Advisory Committee of 7th District veterans that has met regularly to discuss veterans' issues and to better address the needs of aging and returning veterans. This Committee complements my efforts in the District and in Washington, D.C. by facilitating a two-way dialogue in a regular forum that offers me a first hand appreciation for the scope and breadth of issues facing veterans in the 7th Congressional District.
During my time in the Navy I had a wonderful opportunity to serve with some of the most incredible men and women I have ever met, and this advisory committee affords me the chance to stay in close contact with my colleagues who also served in the Armed Forces. Our nation owes its Veterans a great debt of gratitude, and speaking with them on a regular basis ensures that we are hearing and meeting their needs and treating them with the dignity and respect they so deeply deserve.
In 2007, I also established the first Veterans Summit ever held in the 7th Congressional District, which has now become an annual Summit.
In addition, I have led numerous meetings with leaders from various veterans' groups, businesses, educational institutions, housing groups, and medical providers to ensure that our veterans have access to the programs they are entitled to; have the skill sets necessary to transfer from the military into the private/public sector; have access to educational and job opportunities; are not left homeless; and have access to medical care. From such discussions, several Business Procurement Summits were held in the District that featured business opportunities for veterans.
These Veteran Summits included:
AMERICAN PRISONER-OF-WARS ("POWs")
- September 2007 -- First Annual Veterans Summit;
- December 2007 -- Brought together hundreds of local procurement specialists, 40 prime contracting businesses, and 15 governmental agencies that included Congressman John Murtha, Chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and Congressman Ike Skelton, House Armed Services Committee;
- January 2008 -- Business Development Summit involving regional business leaders and defense contractors, including opportunities for veterans;
- May 2008 - Second Annual Veterans Summit that featured Congressman Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. Some 350 local Veterans gathered together for the opportunity to speak face-to-face with experts on subjects ranging from healthcare to education benefits to aid for Veteran-owned small businesses. In addition representatives from various Veterans organizations and other initiatives staffed 35 booths to provide one-on-one assistance for Vets with whatever concerns they might have.
This past year, I also testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee, expressing my strong opposition to the Bush Administration's efforts to absolve Iraq of liability for torturing Americans during the 1991 Gulf War. In the 2003 suit brought by 17 American POWs and 37 of their family members, Iraq, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Intelligence Service were found liable for $653 million in compensatory damages and $306 million in punitive damages.
I strongly believe that Iraq must compensate American POWs tortured during this conflict who have been awarded this financial compensation by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. However, the Administration issued an executive order which precluded payment of the settlement to the American POWs and it also precluded settlement of similar claims for a group of American civilians held as hostages or human shields. In December 2007, the President vetoed the Defense Authorization bill to block a measure that would have removed some immunity from the Iraqi government. Congressman Bruce Braley and I have proposed legislation which would give the Iraqi government 90 days to provide fair restitution to the victims or the waiver of immunity for the Iraqi government would be repealed.
Having traveled to scores of countries over the time I served in the Navy, I have observed that while we are respected for the power of our economy and the power of our military, we are admired for the power of our ideals. There is no power greater than the power of our ideals under the rule of law; we need to support our troops under the rule of law.
I continue to fight to fairly resolve this issue today, arguing that forgiving Iraq would not only put captured American troops in more danger in the future, but would also send a message to the American people that the new Iraqi government is not committed to the rule of law.
I testified that after World War Two, the United States agreed to the third great Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War (POWs), that we would never absolve any state of its liability for illegal torture. In 1991, American POWs were tortured illegally under the rule of law. In the military, you train us through providing rules and regulations never to stain our nation through the use of torture, and we expect the same contract if we were to be tortured.
I have proposed that this matter can be quickly settled for only a fraction of one year's interest earned by Iraq on its $30 billion held in U.S. banks. In addition, my proposal still serves the interests of the reconstruction of Iraq by forgiving as much as 77 percent of judgments against Iraq, including all punitive damages and two-thirds of compensatory damages.
Each month we spend almost $12 billion for the War in Iraq. It's time to support the men and women who wore the cloth of this nation, who were tortured during a war, and who had already won a judgment against the Iraqi government.
In conclusion, I have served our nation in the U.S. Navy with great pride and commitment. I continue to serve my home district with the same level of enthusiasm and dedication, and believe the above efforts demonstrate my commitment of ensuring that our military's excellence continue; and, that our veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned.