Senate passes $441 billion Defense Authorization bill,
provides budget for military activities, benefits for troops
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate passed a sweeping defense bill today authorizing funding for military programs, health care and benefits for military personnel and ongoing efforts to fight the war on terror. The legislation included provisions Senator Harry Reid introduced to increase Nevada’s national security role and protect veteran’s benefits.
The $441.6 billion bill authorizes the budget for all activities funded under the Department of Defense. In addition to setting the budget for national security and defense programs, the bill authorizes a pay raise for service members, extends health care coverage and increases immediate survivor benefits for family members of military personnel killed in combat or combat-related activities.
“There is no greater priority than taking care of our troops,” U.S. Senator Harry Reid said. “Especially during this time of war with so many of our men and women fighting overseas, we must do everything we can to support our service members and care for their families.”
As part of The National Defense Authorization Act, Reid was able to include a provision allowing the Hawthorne Army Depot to conduct training exercises at the base. The landscape and climate in Hawthorne provides an ideal environment for military and combat training exercises. Reid’s provision will allow government agencies to lease the depot facility for activities such as live-sniper training, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) driving course and Escape Resistance and Evasion (SERE) exercises..
“The rugged terrain where many of our military and national security personnel are serving presents unique challenges,” Senator Reid said. “The Hawthorne Army Depot will allow defense agencies an opportunity to conduct training exercises under conditions similar to those in areas of ongoing conflict. The depot has played a tremendous role in our national security activities. We can now build on that service with expanded counter-terrorism training operations.”
Another provision introduced by Senator Reid will ensure benefits for certain retired veterans who are also on disability.
For years, Reid has worked to eliminate an arcane policy that prevents veterans from receiving both retirement and disability pay. While fully repealing the policy has yet to pass Congress, Reid has made great strides. In 2003, Congress passed legislation that allowed disabled retired veterans with at least a 50 percent disability rating to become eligible for both benefits over a graduated ten-year period. Follow up legislation ensured that those designated as “unemployable” would receive their benefits immediately.
There is a separate designation for veterans who have a rating of less than 100 percent disability, but are unemployable by virtue of their disability. Thousands of these veterans, known as Individual Unemployable retirees, have been left in limbo while the Bush Administration decides whether or not they qualify for both benefits. Reid’s provision stipulates that veterans in this category are to receive full concurrent receipt, both disability and retirement benefits.
“This provision will ensure that the most severely disabled veterans who have dedicated their careers to service in the military receive the benefits they are owed,” Reid said.