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Skelton says Congress made significant accomplishments for servicemembers
Skelton says Congress made significant accomplishments for servicemembers

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 30, 2009) — As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I am pleased with the significant bipartisan accomplishments the 111th Congress has made for our service members, veterans, and their families. Our Armed Forces and their families sacrifice a tremendous amount for this country. We have a moral obligation to care for them and their families and make sure they have the resources they need to carry out their mission — both to our nation and their families.

One of the House Armed Services Committee’s finest achievements on behalf of service members was passing H.R. 2647, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, in the House of Representatives. This legislation would address our nation’s defense priorities by improving our military readiness and addressing quality of life issues for our service members and their families. The bill would provide a 3.4 percent pay raise for service members, which is 0.5 percent more than the President recommended, it also strengthens efforts to expand mental health care, and focuses on military families.

The defense authorization bill focused on military families, because this is the “Year of the Military Family.” On March 29, the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 64, which I introduced, that urges the President to declare 2009 as the Year of the Military Family. I did so, because many military families do not believe that the average American truly appreciates the sacrifices military families are making on behalf of our nation. Our military families are stressed and strained after eight years of conflict. It is often stated, “We recruit a member, but we retain a family” —we need to ensure that our actions reflect our words for the nearly two million military family members who are also shouldering the burdens of these conflicts. We have a responsibility to care for these families and express our appreciation for their sacrifices.

Another important achievement of the 111th Congress was the enhancements to eliminate the “Widow’s Tax.” Under current law, survivors of military personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice are prohibited from receiving concurrent benefits from the Department of Defense Survivor Benefit Plan and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation program. While the last Congress took the first step toward eliminating this offset requirement, the 111th Congress recently passed legislation that would increase the current special survivor allowance and extend the authority for the program.

The House also moved forward in our continued efforts to eliminate the prohibition on concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation through passage of H.R. 2990, the “Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act of 2009,” which I also introduced. This bill would, among other things, begin efforts to eliminate concurrent receipt to disabled military retirees with less than 20 years of service.

Our nation’s men and women in uniform, veterans, and their families deserve a government that is committed to the same values that they are fighting to preserve. We cannot forget the debt that we owe those who wear their uniform and the loved ones that support them. Those who serve in uniform and their families have made a commitment to keep our nation strong and free — we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at http://www.house.gov/skelton.

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