Last night, U.S. Senator Mark Udall joined his colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee in approving a critical defense bill, which lays the groundwork for defense policy and funding for the next fiscal year. Senator Udall authored a key provision in the bill, which extends health insurance for military families, enabling the children of active duty service members and retirees to stay on their parents' policies until age 26. Senator Udall was also instrumental in passing several provisions that will help support Colorado military bases as well as troops here and overseas.
"Members of our armed forces and their families make tremendous sacrifices for our nation, and they deserve benefits that will help keep them healthy and secure. I was proud to champion the extension of TRICARE benefits to children of military families. This is the right thing to do for our military families, and I'll keep working to ensure this gets to the President's desk," Senator Udall said.
"I'm also very pleased that the bill includes needed resources to support our service members and keep Americans safe. It improves care for our wounded warriors and supports Colorado's military bases, enhances our military's readiness needs, and provides funding for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq," Senator Udall continued. "Additionally, I'm pleased that this bill addresses a deficiency in our cyberspace capabilities. As the military has noted, cyber space capabilities have advanced much faster than the development of policy and law to guide and control those operations. This is an area in which Colorado's military personnel are leading, and with this bill, we will ensure they can get tools that will better enable them to do their jobs."
Details about the Udall-authored provisions in the bill follow:
TRICARE Dependent Coverage Extension
This provision fulfills an important goal of health insurance reform legislation - allowing parents to cover their young adult children through age 26. While the health insurance reform law, which was signed in March, extended that coverage to civilian families, separate legislation was required for families insured through TRICARE - the Department of Defense health insurance program for military service members, retirees, and their families - because it is governed by a different section of the U.S. Code than civilian health care programs.
Senator Udall believes that extending insurance to cover young Americans until age 26 is critical, especially as they make the transition into the tough job market. TRICARE currently covers children to age 21, or 23 if they are full-time college students. The TRICARE extension will give dependent young adults without employer-provided health insurance the opportunity to pay a reasonable premium and stay covered until they are 26. This provision is based on Senator Udall's legislation, S. 3201, which has 30 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Funding for Colorado Military Bases and Colorado National Guard
Senator Udall was instrumental in including funding for Colorado military bases and the Colorado National Guard:
* Buckley Air Force Base - $9 million to buy about 191 acres of land immediately adjacent to the base to permanently protect the clear zone and eliminate any potential hazards to the flying mission. Development in the surrounding community threatens the ability of pilots at Buckley to make successful take-offs and landings.
* Colorado National Guard - $1.6 million to expand the operations and maintenance of drug interdiction and counter-drug activities by the Colorado Joint Counter Drug Task Force, a joint program of the Army and Air National Guard of Colorado. The funding would allow the Task Force to increase its work to combat the flow of illegal narcotics into Colorado and the central United States, as well as help Colorado's children develop the skills and will to avoid the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Senator Udall also supported military construction funding in the bill for Colorado's military installations, including an additional $12 million for Buckley AFB, $25 million for Peterson Air Force Base, $28 million for the Air Force Academy, $110 million for Fort Carson, $66 million for Pueblo Chemical Depot, and $106 million for the Colorado National Guard for armories in Windsor and Colorado Springs, the Regional Training Institute at Fort Carson, and the High Altitude Aviation Training Site in Gypsum.
Behavioral Health Care for Service Members
Senator Udall led an effort to include a provision in the bill that encourages DOD to continue implementing recommendations of a Task Force on Mental Health regarding embedding behavioral health providers within military units, both during deployment and while service members are home. The provision highlights Fort Carson's Mobile Behavioral Health Teams - which assign behavioral health providers to battalions to work directly with soldiers - and encourages the program to be replicated across the Army.
Energy and the Environment
Senator Udall led an effort to include $25 million in additional funding in the bill for DOD's Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI), a program that has proven effective in addressing the serious and growing problem of encroachment at our nation's military installations, particularly at Fort Carson. Senator Udall was also successful in winning approval for an amendment requiring the Secretary of Defense to assess the renewable energy generation potential at each military installation, identify the requirements of and obstacles to development, and determine the possibilities of developing uniform standards to guide on-installation renewable energy development for all facilities.
Senator Udall offered three amendments to strengthen the military's policy and law dealing with cyber security by:
* Requiring DOD to report to Congress on the Department of Defense's plans for cyber engagement, including how to maintain control of or manage escalation in cyber warfare and definition of what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace.
* Directing DOD to provide annual reports for the next five years on its progress in defending its own networks as well as how well defense contractors are protecting defense information stored on contractor networks.
* Directing the Defense Science Board to, among other things, examine the research budgets and plans for cyber warfare and cyber security of the military services and defense agencies and evaluate whether these investments and activities will meet future needs.
Economic Security in Afghanistan
Finally, Senator Udall worked closely with Committee Chairman Carl Levin on a provision to authorize a program in Afghanistan, which encourages stability and a reduction in violence by helping build Afghanistan's capacity to attract investment and identify economic opportunities.