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Monday, January 24, 2005

Putting America's Security First

Posted by Bob Brigham


Senate Democrats open the 109th Congress steadfastly committed to keeping the promise of America, the promise that all Americans who work hard can build a stronger and brighter future for their families. It is the promise of security, that the American way of life and our freedom will be protected by using all the tools to take the fight to the terrorists and standing with those who have served.


S.11: Standing With Our Troops. Democrats believe that putting America’s security first means standing up for our troops and their families. Democrats will work to increase our military end strength by up to 40,000 by 2007. We will create a Guard and Reserve Bill of Rights to protect and promote the interests of our dedicated citizen soldiers. Democrats will also fight for the families of those who serve our country. This includes providing income security and immediate access to affordable health care.


Democrats understand that putting America’s security first means providing our troops, both the active duty and reserve components, and their families with the resources they need to protect our freedom. S. 11 recognizes the sacrifices our troops make on our behalf by providing them the personnel, equipment, compensation, and benefits they need to them accomplish their mission.

Increase Army and Marine Endstrength By Up To 40,000 By 2007. All Americans have seen and heard of our overburdened and overstretched military. S. 11 recognizes that need and adds up to 30,000 Army personnel and up to 10,000 Marines over 2 years to provide for our security.

Recognize the Sacrifice and Valor of Our Troops. Reports show that the DoD may be dramatically underreporting U.S. casualties in Iraq. S.11 requires the DoD to prepare a monthly report on casualties and establishes an advisory panel on medals and decorations to ensure that deserving servicemembers are honored.

A National Guard and Reserve Bill Of Rights:

  • Straight Answers About Deployment/Service Obligations. S. 11 requires the Defense Department to report on the lessons learned in connection with deployment, extension of duty, and troop rotations. It also requests that the Defense Department keep its commitment to limit the length of service for our citizen soldiers.
  • Best Equipment. In response to the widely publicized shortages of body armor, up-armored Humvees, and other vital equipment and gear, S. 11 would: establish an Office of Mobilization Planning and Preparedness within the National Security Council to plan and prepare for mobilization of private sector and other non-military entities during a national security emergency; require a report from the DoD on Armed Services needs with regard to reconstituting equipment stocks to recover from damage and destruction accumulated during recent combat operations; and authorize $8.5 billion to the Army and $2.1 billion to the Marines for reconstitution needs.

  • Better Representation Within Defense Department. In order to ensure that the reserve component’s increased role is reflected in the Pentagon’s leadership, S. 11 would elevate the Assistant Secretary for Reserve Affairs to Deputy Undersecretary.

  • Timely Compensation. GAO reports in November 2003 and August 2004 found that as many as 95 percent of reservists have experienced pay problems while deployed to Iraq, and that these problems have had a significantly adverse effect on these troops and their families. S. 11 would create a position in DoD to implement the recommendations of the GAO to fix the reservist pay system.
  • Fulfill Our Commitments To Military Families. Democrats also recognize the tremendous sacrifices made by family members of military personnel when their loved ones depart for duty. They must face the difficult task of continuing to support their families and households. S. 11 would ensure both financial and physical health for servicemembers and their families.

  • Provide Pay Security To Federal And Civilian Workers Called To Active Duty. S. 11 provides pay security to military families by offering a tax credit designed to entice employers of reservists to make up the difference between their activated military pay and their civilian income; requires the federal government to make up the difference between reservists’ activated military pay and their civilian income; allows reservists to make certain tax-free withdrawals from IRA accounts; and makes allowances for wage payments made in income tax calculations and retirement plan management.

  • Provide Access To Health Care For All Reservists And Their Families By 2006. A 2000 DoD survey found that 20 percent of reservists, including 40 percent of junior enlisted personnel, had no health care coverage while demobilized. In 2004, Congress passed legislation authorizing reservists to obtain access to the military’s TRICARE health care program for 1 year for each 90-day period of active service. While an important step forward, this provision only provides health care after a deployment is complete, and fails to provide the complete health care coverage necessary to ensure that reservists are medically ready to answer a call to duty. S. 11 provides access to permanent TRICARE coverage.

  • Increase Death And Survivor Benefit. Death and survivor benefits provide the government an opportunity to help military families at their hour of greatest need. S. 11 increases the death gratuity from $12,000 to $100,000. It also lifts a prohibition against receiving both the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependent and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits, and extends the thirty year limitation on paying SBP premiums to retirees who signed up for SBP between 1972 and 1978 (currently, those who joined after 1978 can stop paying premiums after 30 years).
  • Fulfill Our Commitments To Our Taxpayers. While we all support the brave Americans risking their lives in our nation’s defense, Democrats believe Iraq is the world’s problem and others should do their fair share. Unfortunately, U.S. taxpayers have paid over 80 percent of reconstruction costs and over 90 percent of military costs in Iraq. S. 11 requires the President to report to Congress on U.S., Iraqi, and foreign contributions to Iraq’s reconstruction before any new U.S. reconstruction funds are appropriated. Furthermore, the President is required to certify to Congress that he has been unable to generate additional support from Iraqi oil revenues or other nations before any new U.S. reconstruction funds can be allocated.

    S. 12: Targeting the Terrorists More Effectively. Keeping America secure means stepping up the fight against the radical Islamic fundamentalism. Democrats will work to increase our Special Operations forces by 2,000 to attack the terrorists where they are and to protect our freedoms here at home. We will further enhance our efforts against enemies by targeting the institutions that spawn new terrorists. Democrats are also united to ensure that the world’s most dangerous weapons stay out of the hands of terrorists. We will expand the pace and scope of programs to eliminate and safeguard nuclear materials, enhance efforts to keep these and other deadly materials out of the hands of terrorists, and assist state and local governments in equipping and training those responsible for dealing with the effects of terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.


    Democrats are determined to wage the most effective war on terror. S. 12 lays out a comprehensive U.S. strategy to fight and win the war on international terrorism. In contrast to the Bush Administration’s piecemeal approach, S. 12 establishes four interlocking pillars necessary to wage an effective war on terrorism: (1) taking the fight to the terrorists, (2) drying up the breeding grounds that produce terrorism, (3) enhancing the U.S. government’s accountability and effectiveness to deal with this issue, and (4) reducing the possibility terrorists could acquire and use nuclear materials as a weapon, the greatest single threat to U.S. national security.

    Take the Fight to the Terrorists. S. 12 contains three basic provisions that will allow the U.S. to take the fight to the terrorists in a more effective manner. First, S. 12 increases the U.S. Special Forces capability by 2,000 personnel over the next several years, greatly enhancing this nation’s ability to track down and eliminate international terrorists in all corners of the globe. S. 12 also increases foreign language experts in the U.S. government, thereby ensuring that our troops and security personnel receive timely translations of critical conversations between terrorist organizations. S.12 also strengthens measures to combat terrorist financing, a critical aspect of the war on terror.

    Dry up the Breeding Grounds that Produce Terrorism. A long term complement to the offensive measures, S. 12 contains four key long-term initiatives that are designed to dry up the breeding grounds of terrorism. S. 12 authorizes additional funding for basic education programs to help nations provide a clear alternative to the madrassas preaching radical Islam; support to non-governmental organizations working to enhance democracy and development in the Muslim world; new public diplomacy programs to enhancing America’s image abroad, and a long term strategy to deal with key states; including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

    Increase the U.S. Government’s Accountability and Effectiveness to Counter the Terrorist Threat. The U.S. government lacks the basic tools to determine if our efforts to combat terrorism are actually working. This fact was compounded by the errors in the State Department’s annual report on global terrorism. S. 12 deals with these problems by establishing an independent institution with the sole purpose of assessing the effectiveness of U.S. polices and programs on the war on terror; creates tough criminal penalties for anyone caught defrauding or profiteering from U.S. foreign assistance programs; and creates an independent commission to hold accountable all of those responsible for the Abu Ghraib scandal.

    Prevent Nuclear Terrorism. Nuclear terrorism is the single greatest threat to U.S. national security. S. 12 expands the pace and scope of programs to eliminate and safeguard nuclear materials by authorizing a global cleanout of radioactive materials; constructs permanent security arrangements for radioactive materials; expands the Cooperative Threat Reduction program beyond the Former Soviet Union; and dramatically increases resources for a range of under-funded, yet vital, State and Defense Department programs. The bill also includes a number of measures to increase border and port security and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack. It adds 1,500 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Customs and Border Protection agents over 5 years; authorizes $3 billion over 4 years to ensure that MTSA standards are met and funds other port security measures; and creates or restores a number of programs designed to ensure that this nation’s state and local first responders have the training and equipment they need to deal with this threat.

    S. 13: Fulfilling Our Duty to America’s Veterans. A key component of keeping America secure is protecting the rights of our veterans. Since the time of Lincoln, Americans have made and kept a sacred commitment to those who served this nation in the defense of freedom. As a new generation of veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, Democrats are united to fulfill that promise. We will ensure that all veterans get the health care they deserve while also expanding the availability and accessibility of mental health care. We will ensure that no veteran is forced to choose between a retirement and disability check. We will also make the same commitment to the soldiers of today that was made to past veterans with a 21st Century GI Bill.


    Since the time of Lincoln, Americans have made and kept a commitment to those who served in the defense of freedom. As a new generation of veterans returns from Iraq and Afghanistan , Democrats are united to keep that promise. We will ensure that all veterans get access to the health care and services they need.

    Ensure All Veterans Get the Health Care They Deserve By 2006. The May 2003 report of The President’s Task Force To Improve Health Care Delivery For Our Nation's Veterans found a serious imbalance between demand and available funding at the VA that delays care and threatens its quality. Under the current funding process, the VA has experienced billion-dollar shortfalls every year for the past several years. At a time when the number of veterans needing services is increasing daily, S. 13 ensures that America keeps its promises to our veterans and they get the health care they deserve.

    Expand Mental Health Care to All VA Hospitals By 2006. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that as many as 1 in 6 soldiers returning from Iraq may suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Yet only 86 of 163 VA Medical Centers currently have PTSD clinical teams. S. 13 would place a PTSD clinical team at every VA Medical Center, and would improve outreach to at-risk veterans.

    Make Prescription Drugs Readily Available to Veterans. Under current regulations, a veteran receiving a prescription from a private doctor must complete a physical with a VA physician before the VA will honor that prescription. This red-tape costs the VA an estimated $1 billion or more each year. S. 13 will overturn this regulation, providing veterans with quick and easy access to prescription drugs.

    Ensure No Veteran Is Forced to Choose Between Disability Compensation and Retirement Pay By 2006. In 2003, Congress enacted a law phasing in full concurrent receipt of disability compensation and retirement pension over 10 years for all disabled military retirees with 50 percent or higher disability ratings. While such legislation constitutes an important step forward, over 400,000 veterans are still prohibited from receiving the compensation they have earned with their service and sacrifice. S. 13 will revoke the “disabled veterans tax” and make certain that no veteran will have to choose between a disability check and a retirement check.

    Create A Seamless Transition From the Military to the VA. Many veterans have encountered obstacles to getting the services they deserve when they leave active duty status. While the Defense and Veterans’ Departments have been trying to iron out the kinks preventing a “seamless transition” from military life to the VA system, the agencies have yet to complete any of the seven recommendations for this necessity offered by the President’s Task Force. S. 13 would enact each of these seven recommendations, including requiring pre-separation medical examinations and disability benefits counseling, removing information-sharing barriers, and requiring greater cooperation between VA and DoD in tracking disabilities resulting from occupational exposure to hazardous materials.

    Enact A New G.I. Bill For the 21st Century. Education assistance provided under the G.I. Bill and its successors has been one of the most successful federal government programs in history. S. 13 revitalizes the G.I. bill for the 21st Century by excluding G.I. benefits from financial aid eligibility computations, thereby allowing veterans to obtain greater financial aid, and offers Montgomery G.I. bill benefits to more veterans by creating a new enrollment window for Veterans Education Assistance Program participants.

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    Posted at 11:40 AM in 2006 Elections, 2006 Elections - House, 2006 Elections - Senate, Activism | Technorati