Guest editorial: Taking care of military families because they take care of us

By Rep. Susan A. Davis

San Diego is the proud home to thousands of military families, who make sacrifices everyday to protect our democracy and keep us safe. As the ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, I advocate for increases in the benefits for our men and women in uniform and their families.

Every year, Congress looks at how to best address our nation’s military and national security needs through a defense bill. The House Armed Services Committee recently finalized the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Rep. Susan A. Davis

Rep. Susan A. Davis

The Personnel section demonstrates a bipartisan effort to recruit and retain servicemembers while continuing our commitment to care for those who continue to serve.

I was able to secure a number of provisions that build on existing benefits, ensure service members are getting the benefits they earned, and honor the role women have played in our national security efforts.

The amendments I added to the NDAA include:

  • Expand parental leave in the military. One amendment increases leave for the spouse of someone who gives birth to at least 14 days from 10 days and allows dual military couples who adopt to split 36 days of leave according to family needs. Another orders a study into the feasibility of shared parental leave for dual military families after one member gives birth to a child.
  • Prevent servicemembers’ overpayments on student loans. Servicemembers have overpaid about $100 million on student loan interest. Under current law, such interest is supposed to be waived for those eligible military borrowers serving in areas of hostilities. However, many servicemembers carrying student loans are unaware of such a waiver. My amendment orders a plan of action to address these overpayments in student loan interest.
  • Increase access to infertility services for seriously wounded veterans. Many servicemembers have trouble conceiving as a result of their service-connected injuries. While there are infertility services available after they depart the military, many are unaware of this assistance. I added language to the NDAA to reach out to veterans who were seriously wounded, ill or injured and inform them of the available infertility services.
  • Restore the inurnment rights for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) at Arlington National Cemetery. The NDAA incorporates the bipartisan WASP Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act that I cosponsored. The WASP helped win World War II and deserve access to Arlington and the full honors we give our war heroes.
  • Recognize the role of women in the military by authorizing financial support for military service memorials and museums that highlight the role of women in the military.
  • Retention and Recruitment of Afghan Women in Security Forces. As with previous defense bills, I included language to require a goal of $25 million of the funding authorized for the Afghan Security Forces Fund go toward the recruitment, integration, retention, training and treatment of women in Afghan Security Forces.

Some military families experience food insecurity. Reports have recounted hundreds of families in San Diego visiting local food banks to meet their nutrition needs. These families would qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but their housing allowance puts them over the limit for these benefits. A simple solution would be to exclude the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) from the formula, and I offered an amendment to do this.

However, Republicans on the Armed Services Committee blocked the amendment on procedural grounds. However there is still hope. The next stop for the NDAA is the full House of Representatives where I plan to offer this amendment again.

As the NDAA moves through the legislative process, I will continue to work with my colleagues to build on these benefits. We must honor the men and women in uniform and their families for the daily sacrifice they make on our behalf.

—Rep. Susan Davis represents Congressional District 53, which includes including the San Diego communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge and Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.

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