Van Hollen Secures Maryland Priorities in Final Defense Authorization Bill
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) announced the inclusion of several Maryland priorities within the House and Senate-negotiated National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“I’m pleased that House and Senate negotiators were able to come together on this bipartisan compromise to support our service members and federal employees, strengthen our national security, and invest in critical projects throughout Maryland,” said Senator Van Hollen. “On the home front, this legislation provides funding to the many federal agencies and defense installations in Maryland that support our national defense. It also includes a pay increase for our men and women in uniform, paid parental leave for all federal employees, and a repeal of the disgraceful Widow’s Tax. The bill addresses serious concerns we’ve raised on private military housing, including at Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. And it incorporates legislation I’ve introduced to authorize the honorary promotion of Bethesda Veteran Col. Charles McGee and to ensure WWI minority Veterans are appropriately recognized for their acts of valor. In addition to supporting the members of our Armed Forces and our civilian workforce, this bill included provisions I authored that will protect our national security interests.”
Priorities of Senator Van Hollen’s included in the final NDAA are:
· Provisions to improve privatized military housing at military bases including Maryland’s Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. Senator Van Hollen has been engaged with leaders at Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground to address unacceptable conditions of military housing caused by inadequate maintenance by private contractors at those installations. The NDAA includes key provisions of legislation co-sponsored by Senator Van Hollen entitled the Ensuring Safe Housing for Our Military Act. Improvements include withholding payment to contractors of the Basic Allowance for Housing under certain circumstances; a Tenant Bill of Rights; the creation of the position of Chief Housing Officer; the addition of the oversight of military privatized housing in performance evaluations of installation commanders; consideration of a landlord’s history in the contract renewal process; a uniform code of basic standards for privatized military housing; and access for tenants to an online work order system.
· Provisions to repeal the Widow’s Tax. Currently, military widows and widowers who qualify for the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) are forced to take a dollar-for-dollar offset from the DOD Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) benefit, even though their retired spouses elected to pay into the program. SBP is a service member-purchased annuity, whereas DIC is an indemnity payment when military service caused the member’s death. No other federal surviving spouse is required to forfeit his or her federal annuity because military service caused his or her sponsor’s death. Additionally, the offset does not apply to surviving military children -- only to the spouse. In September, Senator Van Hollen met with a constituent and military widow who was subjected to this offset after the loss of her husband, and Senator Van Hollen promised he would continue to fight to repeal this provision within the NDAA.
· Provisions to guarantee paid parental leave for all federal employees. This language will provide over 2 million federal workers with 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child after birth, adoption, or the initiation of foster care. Senator Van Hollen is an original cosponsor of the FAMILY Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers, as well as the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act. He will continue to fight for all workers to receive paid family and medical leave.
· The Senator’s legislation to authorize the honorary promotion of Bethesda Veteran and Tuskegee Airman Col. (Ret.) Charles McGee. Col. McGee, a resident of Bethesda, Md., served with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, completing 136 combat missions. He completed an additional 100 combat missions in the Korean Conflict and 173 combat missions in the Vietnam War, amassing a record three-war total of 409 combat missions – more than any other Air Force fighter pilot. Col. McGee completed a distinguished 30-year career in the United States Air Force, serving in numerous leadership and command capacities and becoming the first African American to command a stateside Air Force Wing and Base in the integrated Air Force.
· Provisions of the Senator’s Valor Medals Review Act. These provisions require the Department of Defense to undertake a review of valor medals awarded to minority Veterans during WWI to determine whether any should receive the Medal of Honor. The language encourages the Department to conduct this review in consultation with the Valor Medals Review Task Force, a joint project of the Congressionally-established World War I Centennial Commission and the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War, which has conducted extensive research to identify WWI Veteran service records for this review. Service members of all races, religions, and backgrounds fought in WWI, but the Medal of Honor was not awarded to minority Veterans until the 1990s. Congress has authorized more recent reviews for minority service members from World War II to the present, but the only review undertaken for WWI took place in 1919 – and no minority Veterans received the Medal of Honor as a result of that review. Addressing this issue is long overdue. William Butler, an African American Veteran from Salisbury, Md. was recognized with the Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Distinguished Service Cross, and a recommendation for the Medal of Honor – but he never received that award – the nation’s highest military honor. This legislation is designed to right that historic wrong and ensure that cases like William Butler’s get a fair review.
· Authorization for new military construction projects on Maryland defense installations. This authorization of funds supports everything from infrastructure improvements to new facilities. These funds are in addition to ongoing funding of all Maryland military installations that the Senator has supported in Defense Appropriations legislation.
· $426 million for the National Security Agency at Fort Meade
· $101 million for Joint Base Andrews
· $27.8 million for Fort Detrick
· $18.5 million for Naval Support Activity South Potomac
· $13.8 million for Naval Support Activity Bethesda
· $12 million for the Army National Guard combined support maintenance shop in Havre de Grace
The negotiated House and Senate NDAA Conference Agreement will now go to the House and Senate floors for a final vote, before proceeding to the President’s desk.
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