This morning, Speaker Pelosi, House Democratic leaders and many Members of Congress held a roundtable discussion in the Capitol with leaders of veterans' and military service organizations. The Speaker’s opening remarks:
Good morning, everyone.
Thank you all for being here once again. I'm a couple of minutes behind schedule because I had to open the House and listen to a very beautiful invocation by a visiting guest chaplain, who told us to be sure not to be too busy for us to say our prayers. And I thought when he said that, that we're never too busy to pray for our veterans, because we know that God has truly blessed America with your service to our country.
We come here today in a week of history for our veterans, in terms of what is being accomplished. Last night, your Chairman informs me at 3 a.m. today, the House Armed Services Committee marked up the Defense Authorization legislation which contains very important initiatives for our men and women in uniform and their families, and for our veterans. And because of the leadership of Chairman Chet Edwards, the supplemental appropriations bill we passed last night allows new GI bill education benefits to transfer to children of fallen soldiers.
I can't take full credit for that because it was a direct result of meetings that we had with some of you, and many of the members of the Military Families Association and other family members who came here and said: “How could it be that if I had a family member who transfers his or her GI bill opportunities to another family member, that's OK? But if my family member has fallen in battle, then the privilege…the right…goes away?” That's all different now because of what was done in the supplemental that was passed in the House last night.
The supplemental also includes compensation of $500 a month for those service members whose deployments were involuntarily extended via stop-loss. The payments are retroactive to September 11, 2001. That is something that we made a priority.
Yesterday, Chairman Edwards marked up a strong military construction appropriations bill. A huge victory, this bill includes more than 10 percent over last year in funding for veterans' medical care, claims processors, and facility improvements. In addition, this bill includes more than $48 billion in advance appropriations for 2011. That is something you have been calling for, and it ensures timely and predictable finding for veterans' health care initiatives.
Under the leadership of Chairman Skelton this week, we also marked up the DOD authorization bill — actually into the wee small hours of this morning. It reflects many of the priorities you have expressed in previous roundtables. It includes a pay raise of 3.4 percent; establishes a federal agency internship pilot program for military spouses; provides $1.95 billion for family housing programs; and requires DOD to review the way it calculates housing allowances to determine if current standards are meeting the needs of today's military families. Thank you, Mr. Skelton.
Many of the issues that you have raised in previous roundtables are now being addressed by the Congress. You spoke. We listened.
And as you know, President Obama is listening as well. As we discussed the last time you were here, the President made the decision that combat-wounded veterans should not be billed through their insurance policies for combat-related injuries. We celebrated that announcement back then.
Today, I would like to focus on further progress we can make for our men and women in uniform in several key areas. Some that you have talked about: advanced appropriations — Mr. Edwards has already done so. PTSD and mental health care; employment challenges facing our recently returned veterans; and benefits issues.
In all our work, you know our commitment here: just as the military pledges never to leave a soldier behind on the battlefield, we say, and when they come home, we will leave no veteran behind.
Yesterday, the House passed the FY 2009 Supplemental Appropriations which includes the following provisions:
EXTENDED GI BENEFITS
Allows the extension of the 21st Century GI Bill of Rights college education benefits to children of members of the armed forces who die while on active duty.
Provides over 185,000 service members who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since September 11, 2001 with $500 per month for every month they were held under stop-loss orders.
DEFENSE HEALTH & MILITARY FAMILY SUPPORT
$1.8 billion for defense health and programs to support military families, including:
$708 million for family advocacy programs, which provide military families with access to child psychologists, child care, financial counseling and other support to help them cope with the disruption and stress common with military life;
$75 million for Traumatic Brain Injury and Psychological Health Research, and
$20 million for rehabilitation equipment for state of the art care for wounded warriors.
EQUIPMENT FOR THE TROOPS
Provides $25.8 billion for equipment used by our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $500 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment and $4.5 billion for lightweight Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to protect our forces and provide a vehicle suited to the terrain and poor roads in Afghanistan.
WOUNDED WARRIOR SUPPORT
Supports the construction of nine wounded warrior support complexes to help soldiers wounded in combat recover and remain on active duty or transition to civilian life and support families through this process.
MILITARY HOSPITALS/WALTER REED
Invests $488 million in military hospital construction to renovate hospitals that are decades old and do not meet current standards for medical care. Also includes investments to complete the construction of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, including a Warrior Transition Center, and the Fort Belvoir, VA, Community Hospital.
CHILD CARE FACILITIES
Provides for the construction of twenty-five new child development centers at military bases, which will provide care for an additional 5,000 kids.