Senate Must Pass Defense Bill Supporting Troops, Military Families This Year

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 9, 2010
CONTACT: Isabel Black, (212) 982-9699 or isabel@iava.org

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Senate Must Pass Defense Bill Supporting Troops, Military Families This Year

Critical Provisions to Address Invisible Wounds, Military Sexual Trauma Included

NEW YORK - Today, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the country's first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, called on the Senate to swiftly pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Although “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has dominated the national discussion, and it is undoubtedly important, it is only one part of the vital Defense Bill. This broad legislation also includes provisions to expand mental health care resources, address Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Military Sexual Trauma (MST), extend the stop loss deadline and improve the electronic sharing of health records between the DoD and the VA.

“Most of America thinks there is an up or down vote on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Missing from the national discussion is the fact that DADT is one of dozens of important provisions included in a Defense Bill that will have a historic impact on our troops and veterans. While the country is fighting two wars, passing funding for our troops  should be a no-brainer. We cannot allow personal politics to get in the way of supporting our service members. If Congress fails to pass the Defense Bill, it will be the first time in 48 years. That’s not a precedent this Administration or Congress wants to set,” said IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff.  “Our troops can’t afford to wait until next year for vital Pentagon funding. One in three troops are coming home today with invisible wounds like Traumatic Brain Injury, one in seven female veterans are screening positive for Military Sexual Trauma and thousands of service members are losing their medical records as they transition from the DoD to the VA health care systems. IAVA urges the Senate to pass this critical legislation this year and ensure our troops aren’t left waiting for live saving resources.”

In addition to a provision for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (see IAVA’s full statement supporting repeal here), key provisions contained in the NDAA address the following urgent issues:

•    Expanding the number of DoD mental health providers. There is a chronic shortage of mental health providers in the military. With rates of mental health injuries and suicide rising higher every month, the DoD is in desperate need of providers to help service members identify and combat invisible wounds. This bill provides education incentives to recruit both civilian and military mental health care providers. (Senate §703)

•    Mandatory pre- and post-deployment TBI assessments. Although TBI is the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the DoD has never adequately developed a comprehensive screening program.  NDAA will require the DoD to do pre-deployment assessments to compare to post-deployment assessments after a potential injury. (House §722)

•    Eradicating Military Sexual Trauma. NDAA contains 29 recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military, including modernizing the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the creation of a sexual assault reporting hot line.  (House §1601-1664)

•    DoD/VA record sharing.  In 2009, the DoD and VA began to work on a joint electronic lifetime record that follows a service member from enlistment to the grave.  There have been concerns that the record sharing between the DoD and VA could violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  NDAA would change HIPAA to allow records to migrate between the DoD and the VA. (Senate §715, House §532)

•    Military pay raise and bonuses. NDAA provides a 1.9% pay increase for all service members and the extension of a host of recruitment and retention bonuses set to expire. (House §601)

Because of these provisions and a number of others, passage of the NDAA this year is broadly supported. IAVA is a member of The Military Coalition (TMC), a consortium of 32 nationally prominent military and veterans organizations representing more than 5.5 million current and former service members, their families and survivors. The TMC recently urged the passage of NDAA in a letter to Senator Reid and Senator McConnell here.

If you are a member of the media who wishes to arrange an interview with IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff, please contact Isabel Black (212) 982-9699 or isabel@iava.org.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the country's first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 200,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Its mission is to improve the lives of this country's newest generation of veterans and their families.