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Effects of Troop Deployments

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, we appreciate the opportunity tonight in the 30-Something Working Group to talk about an item that is extremely important to America and particularly important to America's military families, and that is the effects of troop deployment on the children, families and communities of military personnel.

Speaker Pelosi has been so supportive of the notion that we need to make sure that we shape our policy, particularly around our Nation's veterans, in support of our military families. The extended troop deployments, the tour after tour of duty, I know that so many of us as Members have met with soldiers' families and met with individual troops who have said they are on their third and fourth tour of duty, that they are having extended deployments, that they are having a much shorter than they are supposed to time between deployments. Normally they are supposed to go through about 365 days between deployments. Those times have not been respected and they have been sent back much sooner.

Since October 2001, approximately 1.6 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Deployed family members are leaving behind parents, children and spouses to provide a selfless patriotic service to our country. However, families are also asked to make great sacrifices when dealing with the stress and anxiety of multiple deployments, limited and infrequent communications, and the separation of a family member.

In this Month of the Military Child, we thought it was only appropriate that we show our support for those that themselves provide so much support to our soldiers and discuss the consequences of these prolonged separations.

I would like to begin, Mr. Speaker, with a story of the Lopez family. The Lopez family is right here. They were profiled in the Sesame Workshop Talk, Listen, Connect Series. Ten-year-old Ernesto, who is the little boy right here, and 6-year-old Jennifer, live with their mother and baby brother on Fort Bragg in North Carolina, which is home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces and one of the largest military bases in the world. Their dad, Staff Sergeant Ernesto Lopez, is in Iraq on his third tour of duty.

Look how little these children are. The daughter is 6 years old. If he is on his third tour of duty, and most of these tours of duty, Mr. Speaker, are, as you know, about a year each, that means that he has missed half of Jennifer's life already. Half. It is just unbelievable.

Jennifer keeps a special calendar in her room to mark the days until her dad comes home. Ernesto sleeps with a duplicate of the small ball that his father carries, a soft army ball with a molded helmet and a soldier's face, onto which Ernesto drew a heart that means ``we love each other,'' in his words. Even baby Elan, who was born 2 days before his father was deployed, has a soft-sided photo album filled with pictures of his dad that his mother hopes will ease his recognition when he returns.

Imagine. It is going to be incredibly difficult for this family to go through the restoration of bonding that military families inevitably go through. I can't imagine having just given birth and having to leave to go across the world and not know whether or if I would see my family again. That is what our men and women that are fighting for us in Iraq are going through every single day. And as Ernesto, Jennifer, Elan and Mrs. Lopez know so well, when a parent is deployed, the entire family is deployed.

The Lopez children are an example of the 1.2 million children under the age of 10 who have a parent or parents on active military duty or in the Reserves, which is more than at any other time since World War II.

Tonight, Mr. Speaker, we are going to be discussing the burdens of deployment on the children, families and communities of the brave men and women that serve us in uniform. Families and communities of military personnel are making huge sacrifices every day for the protection of this country, and we must be prepared as a Nation to ensure the well-being of military families, welcome home our brave soldiers at the end of their tours, and provide for their safe reintegration into their communities.

At this time, I would like to recognize the gentleman who suggested that the 30-Something Working Group take up this subject during our weekly hour. He is a tremendous leader when it comes to the issues important to veterans and military families, Chairman BOB FILNER, the gentleman from California.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Filner, your leadership on the Veterans' Affairs Committee has just been second to none. Your commitment to our military families has been so incredibly important in trying to make sure that we can highlight their needs and the struggles and difficulties that they go through; and the policy that you are shaping in your committee to make sure that we can improve their lives.

Look at the statistics there. The statistics there show just exactly what the impact is on our military families. The dark green shows 2003 to 2005 what you had in infidelity, it was about 4 percent. Fast forward to 2007, and we are at 15 percent. You go to divorce. We are at 11 percent 2003 to 2005, and you are up to 20 percent in 2007. And then look at any other problem. And of course the military families have problems just like anybody else, but look at the explosion of problems that military families have had in terms of their marital problems. In 2003 to 2005, it was 12 percent and they are at 27 percent now. Granted, war is a stressful situation, Mr. Chairman. But, my gosh, we need to do more. And I know that your committee is committed to doing that.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Can I ask you a question on that? Given your expertise and your professional background in psychology; obviously posttraumatic stress disorder is incredibly stressful on families, and I just want to bring up some statistics and maybe have you comment on them.

We have documentation that servicemembers who are given a diagnosis of PTSD were significantly more likely to perpetrate violence toward their partners, with more than 80 percent committing at least one act of violence in the previous year, and almost half at least one severe act. And that source, the third-party validator we have on that is the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, and that was back in 2003 that they cited that.

The stress on families, beyond the deployment, which is obviously incredibly stressful. When they come back and they are suffering from PTSD, that has to have an incredibly horrific impact.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ. It really does. And one of the things that we are now looking back, and we should even go back to the Vietnam era, a large number of those veterans that are homeless out there are suffering from posttraumatic stress from the Vietnam veteran era. So we cannot allow that to occur to this generation of soldiers coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan. So I am real pleased with the resources that we have come forward. Now, we have got to make sure that we have those programs and treatment that reach out not only to that veteran but to the entire family and community as a whole. We allowed for legislation because we don't have the sufficient workers out there to provide that treatment, to contract out with the community health centers, mental health centers, to reach out as quickly as possible to those specific soldiers.

We are anticipating, and we are trying to make it more flexible so that soldiers can go through that treatment, because we also know that part of that is we don't want them to go through the stigma, but it almost has to be required that every soldier in those kind of settings go through some degree of treatment to assure that we can come to grips with it as quickly as possible.

We know that the number of suicides that are occurring right now, some 6,000 annually, that is uncalled for. And it is disproportional on the side of veterans versus the general public in terms of those suicides.

I had a young lady in the military that committed suicide. And, believe me, when they commit suicide while in the military, they get treated very differently. The family does not get any compensation whatsoever. And we are having difficulty right now, as we had difficulty with the DOD, Department of Defense, when they ID'd some 22,000 soldiers with personality disorders. When that occurs, that means that it is a preexisting condition. We have to go back and assess. Maybe they do belong with that diagnosis, but we have got to make sure that they are not wrongly diagnosed and not given what they should be; otherwise, they won't be receiving their compensation.

So I want to personally thank you for allowing us to come here tonight and talk about our soldiers and their families and their children, because they are the ones who are also suffering, and those statistics are just alarming and we should not tolerate that.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. And in this Month of the Military Child, we want to make sure that we highlight the impact on our military members' families, because they are the ones that end up forgotten.

And I thank all of you for coming this evening, because you all have some unique experience and involvement, unique constituencies who are significantly impacted by our troops' deployment in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And someone who in particular has a specific family member who has inspired him is Congressman Jerry McNerney, who actually was inspired to run for Congress by his son, Michael, who in response to the attacks from September 11 sought and received a commission in the United States Air Force. And Michael suggested that his dad serve his country, too, by running for Congress. And when they pulled together as a family, Congressman McNerney decided that that was what he needed to do. And we were so pleased when your victory became clear on election night in 2006, and it is with a deep sense of duty and your family's support that I know you are serving here and serving admirably.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. McNerney, thank you. It is wonderful we have someone of your stature and your commitment, that is willing to come to the floor and talk about the importance of making sure that we take care of not just the troops but of the troops' family members because they are making a decision to serve the public as well. They make sacrifices, and we all wanted to come together tonight as House Democrats and talk about the sacrifices that those families make.

It is my distinct pleasure to yield to my colleague from Ohio, Congressman Zack Space, whose father served in the Marines during the Korean War, and who also serves on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and has been a passionate advocate on behalf of issues important to veterans and their families.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much, Mr. Space and thank you for your commitment. You really have been representing your district proudly, and I know they're proud of you. And I am honored to serve with you. We truly appreciate your being here this evening.

It's now my pleasure to yield a few minutes to my 30 something colleague who is a little bit more familiar with the normal give and take that we have in the 30-Something group. This is a little more staid and low key for 30-Something, but we're trying to help you all keep up with the pace. And feel free, to my colleagues, to jump in. We usually have a little bit more dynamic style in the 30-Something instead of a one at a time type of approach.

So my colleague, Congressman Altmire, from the great State of Pennsylvania, I have to tell a story before I yield to you. And you've heard me tell this before.

Literally, I'm on the whip team for our caucus, and it was my responsibility right after Mr. Altmire's election to sidle over to him and talk to him about some legislation that we wanted him to vote with the caucus on. And literally, his first words to me were that he had to make sure what the impact was on veterans, and that he came here to make sure that the quality of life of our Nation's veterans was upheld and that that was paramount to him. So I thought that was really admirable and wonderful; and you have represented veterans in your community incredibly well.

And I yield to my colleague from Pennsylvania.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you, Mr. Altmire. And thank you for really making America's military, veterans as well as the troops currently serving, a high priority for yourself and your agenda and the issues that you champion on behalf of the people in the district that you represent in Pennsylvania.

I want to turn now to another Pennsylvanian who served in the United States Navy for 31 years and rose to the rank of three star Admiral. His battle group conducted combat operations in Afghanistan and precursor operations to the war in Iraq, and he is one of our caucus' foremost experts on the issues that are important to military families and that are important to us as we try to wrestle with this very difficult issue of how we're going to extricate ourselves from this war in Iraq. And our caucus has tremendous respect for your service. And it's my pleasure to yield to Congressman Joe Sestak.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much, Mr. Sestak, for your 31 years of military service and now your continued public service to our country and to the citizens of Pennsylvania and your district. We really truly appreciate your expertise and the heart that you put into this job in representing your community. So thank you so much for joining us.

It's my pleasure to turn to someone who I admire and respect and look up to. She is one of the few women that are in a leadership role in our Congress on the Armed Services Committee, and she is really a person who has broken through on the issues that are important to the military and the military families and provided a different perspective, as women often do.

And this was such a tremendous source of pride for me, Ms. Davis, that you chair the Subcommittee on Military Personnel, which is an incredibly important assignment of the House Armed Services Committee; and you represent the community of San Diego so admirably in this institution, and you have been a champion on behalf of veterans and military families.

It is my pleasure to yield to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much, Mr. Sestak, for your 31 years of military service and now your continued public service to our country and to the citizens of Pennsylvania and your district. We really truly appreciate your expertise and the heart that you put into this job in representing your community. So thank you so much for joining us.

It's my pleasure to turn to someone who I admire and respect and look up to. She is one of the few women that are in a leadership role in our Congress on the Armed Services Committee, and she is really a person who has broken through on the issues that are important to the military and the military families and provided a different perspective, as women often do.

And this was such a tremendous source of pride for me, Ms. Davis, that you chair the Subcommittee on Military Personnel, which is an incredibly important assignment of the House Armed Services Committee; and you represent the community of San Diego so admirably in this institution, and you have been a champion on behalf of veterans and military families.

It is my pleasure to yield to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

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