National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 -- (House of Representatives - May 19, 2004)
Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of H.R. 4200, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005. I'd like to thank Chairman HUNTER, Ranking Member SKELTON, and my Subcommittee leaders Chairman WELDON and Ranking Member ABERCROMBIE and Chairman HEFLEY and Ranking Member ORTIZ for all their hard work and efforts to put together a great and bipartisan bill.
The bill we are taking up on the floor today contains a number of very important provisions beyond its routine function of providing for the yearly defense budget.
Specifically, Section 304 includes language that provides authority to the Secretary of Defense to reimburse a member of the Armed Forces for the cost of protective body armor purchased between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2003 by the member, or by another person on behalf of the member, for use by the member while deployed in connection with Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom if the member was so deployed and was not issued protective body armor before the member became engaged in operations or situations described in 37USC310(a)(2), regarding "Special pay: duty subject to hostile fire or imminent danger".
This language is a direct result of both the effort and sacrifice of my constituent Pene Palifka of East Hartford, whose son, Bill, was serving in the Army National Guard's 248th Engineer Company in Iraq. On Monday night, October 13, 2003, I held a public forum about the FY04 Iraq supplemental appropriation request in my District where I first met Pene Palifka and heard her story. When her son Bill was deployed, he was deployed without the Army's new Interceptor body armor, because as it had been reported and as I heard directly from soldiers serving in Iraq when I visited there in August 2003, there was a shortage of roughly 40,000 of these vests at that time.
Out of concern for her son's safety, she came forward and provided the money herself, about $1,100, to purchase body armor for her son. Many other families and soldiers have had to do the same, and that is simply wrong.
Congress appropriated funding in the FY03 Emergency Wartime Supplemental that was signed into law in April 2003 to procure and distribute additional vests. But, as became evident by the time the Iraq Supplemental Appropriation bill was before Congress last October, there were various manufacturing and procurement issues preventing these vests from making it to the front, and this shortage continued to exist through the early part of this year, prompting many soldiers or their families to take matters into their own hands.
While the Congress and the Department of Defense have worked to address these shortfalls since then, this bill fulfills the government's responsibility to reimburse the people who stepped in and spent money out of their own pocket to equip the soldiers serving in the Global War on Terrorism with equipment that Congress intended the Department of Defense to provide.
The next issue I would like to point out and commend our Committee leaders for is working with all of us to find the resources to make eliminating the so-called "widows tax" possible. This bill eliminates the social security offset under the SBP by increasing the annuities paid to survivors of military retirees who are 62 or older from 35 percent of retired pay to 55 percent by March 2008. The surviving spouses of our military servicemen and women deserve their full benefits.
Finally, this bill includes a 2-year BRAC delay, an important pause at a time when we must all reassess the priorities of the military and its requirements to provide for the national security of this country in a post 9/11 environment.