Bill Includes Military Pay Raise, Support for Gold Star Families, National Guardsmen, Women Servicemembers
WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17), a member of the powerful House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, helped pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) out of the House.
The bill includes key provisions to support Gold Star families and spouses of catastrophically injured servicemembers, provide a pay raise for our military, enhance student loan benefits for National Guard and Reserve members, request data on National Guard activations for COVID-19 and support women serving our country.
“From the Rock Island Arsenal to the Peoria Air National Guard Base to research facilities in Rockford, the heart of our nation’s defense capabilities runs right through Western, Northern and Central Illinois,” Congresswoman Bustos said. “That’s why I was pleased to come together today to pass a bipartisan defense bill that upholds our region’s strong tradition of service. I was also proud to include initiatives to provide relief for our Gold Star families, benefits for our National Guardsmen and support for our women servicemembers.”
Congresswoman Bustos fought to include the following provisions:
- Support for Gold Star Families: After hearing the story of Gold Star spouse Kylie Riney of Fairview, Illinois, who lost her husband in Afghanistan and was unable to terminate a lease to move her family and mourn their loss, Congresswoman Bustos passed legislation that would allow Gold Star spouses to terminate residential leases without penalty. Later, Congresswoman Bustos passed additional legislation to extend these protections to include automobile leases and to spouses of catastrophically injured servicemembers. Today’s bill includes language that would allow Gold Star spouses and spouses of catastrophically injured servicemembers to terminate similar contracts for homes, cars and telecommunications should they find themselves in the same position as Kylie.
- Student Loan Benefits for National Guard: The bill includes language that enhances student loan benefits so National Guard and Reserve members qualify for full student loan repayments. Right now those who enlist in the National Guard and Reserves will not receive full student loan repayments because the standard six-year contract falls short of tenure requirements. As a result, many National Guard members do not realize full repayment of their student loans during their first enlistment. Today’s bill incorporates language from Congresswoman Bustos’ bipartisan Selected Reserve Education Loan Repayment Program (LRP) Enhancement Act to adjust the LRP Program so that Selected Reserve component service members can realize 100% of qualified education benefits within a standard six-year contract while providing a strong recruitment tool for the National Guard.
- Protection of National Guard Benefits: When the activations of men and women in the National Guard responding to COVID-19 were set to expire just one day short of the required time of service to qualify for certain federal benefits, Congresswoman Bustos led more than 70 of her colleagues in calling on the Administration to extend their activations. In response to the public pressure, the Administration extended the deadline but today’s bill includes a request for more information, including whether federal benefits factored into the decision making process.
- Uniforms for Women Servicemembers: In today’s bill, Congresswoman Bustos helped include a provision that would authorize a pilot program to provide women in the military free access to maternity uniforms that are permethrin-free—a chemical typically on military uniforms that can be dangerous for pregnant women.
- Pregnancy Discrimination: Congresswoman Bustos also helped include a provision that requires the Department of Defense to develop policies that fight pregnancy discrimination, including reasonable accommodations for a pregnant servicemember’s career (like training postponement).
Other priorities of Congresswoman Bustos included in the bill are:
- Gives Our Troops a Pay Raise and Protects Their Safety: Authorizes a 3 percent military pay raise, protects their health by cleaning up so-called PFAS “forever chemicals,” invests in housing improvements for military members and families and advances justice with improvements to sexual assault prevention and response.
- Strengthens America’s Health and Economic Security: Includes important fixes to expand paid parental leave for certain federal civilian employees and initiatives to combat the climate crisis.
- Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Proactively strengthens our nation’s defenses to pandemics with a $1 billion Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience National Security Fund, boosts America’s industrial base resilience, helps Maritime Security Program carriers keep ships fully crewed during COVID-19, supports NATO’s multinational response to the pandemic, and provides funds to the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program with an increased focus on cooperative biological engagement to detect and confront biological threats.
- Provides for Removing the Names of Confederates from Our Military Bases: Requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to identify and change the names of all military bases and infrastructure named for individuals who took up arms against America by serving in the Confederacy, with the process to be completed in one year. Also prohibits the public display of the Confederate flag on Department of Defense installations.
- Creates a More Diverse Military: Creates a Special Investigator focused on combating racial disparities in the military justice system and in personnel policies and practices, establishes Chief Diversity Officers throughout the military and creates initiatives for increasing representation of women and minorities in the military services.
- Advances our Values: Prohibits use of DOD funds in support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen and caps spending under the national emergency military construction authority to prevent its misuse on the President’s wasteful border wall.