Senator Clinton Welcomes Senate Approval of Measures to Aid Servicemembers and their Families, Address National Security Challenges
Expresses Disappointment that Department of Defense Authorization Bill Does Not Force President to Change Course in Iraq
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today welcomed Senate approval, as part of the FY 2008 Department of Defense (DoD) Authorization bill, of a series of measures she introduced which will help provide needed benefits for servicemembers and their families, help prevent nuclear terrorism, ensure needed oversight of United States action in Darfur, assess readiness for ground forces within the Army and Marine Corps, and address national security threats posed by global warming. The bill will now be considered by a House-Senate conference committee.
"While I am disappointed that the minority has blocked Democratic efforts in this bill to force the President to finally change course and begin to end the war in Iraq, I am pleased that seven of my amendments were included in this year's Defense Authorization bill," said Senator Clinton. "Several of these amendments will provide much needed benefits to our servicemembers and their families, others will address national security concerns such as nuclear proliferation and global warming, and another will require a report on the planning and implementation of the policy of the United States to end the ongoing violence in Darfur. I urge the conference committee to take into consideration the benefits of these amendments and include them in the final conference report."
The seven amendments introduced by Senator Clinton that were included in the Defense Authorization bill passed by the Senate will:
Protect financial benefits for military family members. Senator Clinton's amendment will protect financial benefits for military family members by closing gaps in coverage for Death Gratuity and Survivor Benefits beneficiaries. When tragedy strikes and a military service member makes the ultimate sacrifice, minor dependent children and their guardians are excluded from receiving certain benefits and entitlements. In too many cases, pre-deployment systems and processes designed to protect military family financial benefits are under-resourced or not available and create an unnecessary burden for survivors.
Increase burial travel allowances for families of deceased servicemembers. Senator Clinton's amendment requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to authorize burial travel allowances for minor siblings of a deceased servicemember, and when necessary, provide burial travel allowances for the person authorized to direct the disposition of the remains. Currently, only spouses, dependent children, and parents of deceased servicemembers are authorized burial travel allowances; while travel for minor siblings of the deceased servicemember is either paid out of pocket, or with emergency funds provided by DoD. In some instances the emergency fund approval process has been untimely, causing a delay in travel plans or an absence of a family member. Additionally, DoD requires servicemembers to designate an individual responsible for burial arrangements as the "Person Authorized to Direct Disposition." This person can be a spouse, parent, or another blood relative, however only spouses and parents are authorized burial travel allowances. Travel for a blood relative who is serving as the "Person Authorized to Direct Disposition," and who is not a spouse or parent of the deceased servicemember, must pay out of pocket or apply for emergency funds to travel to the burial they are responsible for arranging.
Increase Temporary Lodging Expenses (TLE) for servicemembers. Senator Clinton's amendment will help the increasing number of servicemembers and their families who are moving to bases without sufficient housing. This problem is especially acute at Fort Drum, New York, where soldiers often have to wait for quarters beyond the 20 day TLE period which greatly inhibits their quality of life. Her amendment provides the Secretary of Defense additional authority to increase the TLE period from 20 to 60 days for those servicemembers moving to a military base experiencing a housing shortage. The current 20 day TLE extraordinary circumstances provision expires on December 31, 2008, and the Clinton amendment extends the new TLE authorities for another year to December 31, 2009. Under normal circumstances servicemembers receive 10 days of TLE when they conduct a permanent change of station move. When a military base cannot provide quarters within the 10 day TLE period, the Department of Defense can increase the TLE period to 20 days. However, after the 20 day TLE period expires without housing being provided, the servicemember pays out of pocket for temporary lodging until permanent housing is assigned or a rental housing unit is made available.
Expand and extend a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the readiness of the ground forces within the Army and Marine Corps. The GAO study would also assess the impact on the ground forces of the troop surge initiated by President Bush. The Senator's amendment is aimed at providing additional transparency of the true readiness of the military, to better identify where Congress can help focus its efforts.
Address national security risks posed by global warming by implementing many of the recommendations of a report authored by eleven retired three and four-star admirals and generals and released by the CNA Corporation in April. The study, "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change," concluded that global warming presents a "serious national security threat." The study examines how projected climate changes, such as rising sea levels, more intense tropical storms, and increased flooding and drought, will have destabilizing impacts, including reduced access to fresh water, impaired food production, and displacement of major populations. The study concludes that these impacts could act as a "threat multiplier" and increase the potential for failed states, cause mass migrations that add to global tensions, and increase conflict over resources.
Help prevent nuclear terrorism. Senator Clinton's amendment would require the president and relevant federal departments and agencies to work with the international community to create specific minimum standards for the security of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable fissile material, to convince other countries to adopt these standards, and to assist other countries in meeting and maintaining them. The amendment would also require an annual report to Congress that would include a prioritized diplomatic and technical plan - including measurable milestones, metrics, estimated timetables, and estimated costs of implementation - to eliminate or secure all weapons-usable nuclear material anywhere in the world, and progress in implementing that plan. The report would also include a prioritized list of vulnerable sites around the world with nuclear weapons or weapons-usable nuclear material where security upgrades are needed most urgently.
Ensure oversight of U.S. action in Darfur. Senator Clinton's amendment requires the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of State to report on the planning and implementation of the policy of the United States to end the violence in Darfur, including any plans for a no-fly zone, and ensure appropriate Congressional oversight of U.S. activity in the region. The report also requires an evaluation of the government of Sudan's compliance with its obligations under international law. In addition, the report calls for a comprehensive assessment of the impact of a no-fly zone for Darfur, including on humanitarian efforts in the region, and a plan to minimize any negative impact on those efforts.