Warner, Kaine hail wins for Virginia in congressional defense bill

congressU.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015 has cleared a key Senate hurdle and will now advance to a vote on final passage. The bipartisan legislation, which is expected to pass and be signed into law by the President soon, is substantially based on the two bills passed last spring by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, respectively.

“This legislation demonstrates that despite often strong policy disagreements on both sides of the aisle, Congress can work together when our national security interests are at stake,” said Warner. “The compromise maintains our national security priorities while also strengthening Virginia’s historic commitments to our military men and women and their families.”

“I’m proud that Congress has come together to strongly support programs and provisions that are critical to our defense communities,” said Kaine, a member of the Armed Services Committee who advocated on behalf of Virginia in the Senate version of the bill. “From giving our troops a pay raise, to maintaining our 11 aircraft carrier fleet and improving the credentialing process to ease servicemembers’ transition into the civilian workforce, the positive impacts of this bipartisan legislation will be felt across the Commonwealth.”

The following list highlights many of the provisions included in the defense bill that impact Virginia:

Refueling and Overhaul of the USS George Washington (CVN 73):  Provides the legislative authorities and program language to support the $848 million added by the appropriations bill to keep the  refueling and complex overhaul of CVN 73 on track and preserve the Navy’s 11 operational aircraft carrier fleet.

Supports Shipbuilding Priorities: Authorizes funding for three Littoral Combat Ships, two Virginia Class submarines, the Ford Class aircraft carrier program, and allows two cruisers to enter modernization next year.  This follows the landmark contract signed by the Navy this year for 10 new Virginia class submarines-the largest contract in the history of the Navy.

Raises Servicemembers’ Pay: Authorizes a one percent pay raise for most servicemembers.

Protects Commissary Subsidies & Rejects Proposal to Consolidate TRICARE: The compromise bill provides authority to ensure military commissaries will continue to provide this important benefit to servicemembers, and is matched by a $190 million restoration by the appropriations committee.  The bill defers any other changes to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which is preparing to issue a comprehensive set of cost-saving recommendations in February 2015.  This follows the guidance of the bipartisan Warner-Chambliss bill introduced early this year that blocked any commissary cuts until the review of military compensation commission was complete.

Improves Policies on Sexual Assault in the Military: Requires the Secretary of Defense to consider the preference of sexual assault survivors regarding whether offenses should be prosecuted by court-martial or in a civilian court. Allows survivors of sexual assault, who believe that their rights were violated during the court martial process, the ability to petition the Court of Criminal Appeals to require the court martial to comply with the Military Rules of Evidence. Provides an appeal process for individuals who were survivors of a sex-related offense and were discharged from the military for what they believe is a side-effect of their assault, such as psychological struggles. Requires the establishment of a Defense Advisory Committee on Investigation, Prosecution, and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces.

Expands Battlefield Preservation: Includes a bill sponsored by Kaine to reauthorize a National Park Service program that partners with landowners to preserve Civil War battlefields at risk of being lost to haphazard development.  It will make Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefield sites eligible as well.

Improved Credentialing Process for Servicemembers: The authorization includes provisions of an amendment Kaine introduced with Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) that requires the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to create a program for active duty servicemembers to obtain professional credentials while serving.

Addresses Overmedication of Prescription Drugs in Treatment Plans:  Authorizes a pilot program to evaluate medication therapy management for servicemembers.

No BRAC Round:  The bill rejects DoD proposals for a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.

Authorizes Expansion of Arlington National Cemetery:  Authorizes the land exchange between Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, supporting both Army efforts for expanded cemetery grounds and Arlington County efforts for a variety of public uses.

Suicide Prevention: Authorizes $53.3 million toward behavioral and psychological health programs for military personnel.

Supports Expansion of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program: The bill includes provisions co-sponsored by Senators Kaine and Shaheen extending the Afghan SIV program, which was set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. The program provides visas to Afghans who have provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. forces mission in Afghanistan and face threats as a result. The provisions extend the program and provide authorization for additional visas to be issued, increasing the total to approximately 4,000 per year.

Establishes a Commission on the Future of the Army: The bill establishes a National Commission on the Future of the Army while limiting the transfer of aviation assets from the National Guard to the Army.  

Includes Provisions for the Fight against ISIL:  Authorizes programs to train and equip Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, and extends the authorization of a program to train vetted moderate Syrian opposition.

Support to Afghan forces:  Authorizes full request of $4.1 billion for Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, critical to supporting the train and advise mission.


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