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Public Statements

Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, D.C.

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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this bill, albeit with very mixed feelings.

This bill includes a number of very important programs for our military personnel and their families. Of particular importance is the change in law that allows our men and women in uniform to provide health care benefits to their adult children up to age 26, like the rest of the country can currently do. I'm also pleased that the bill provides a 1.4 percent pay raise for our troops to make sure that their pay raise rates match the private sector, and that it funds a school modernization program for the children of our servicemembers. Unfortunately, one critical provision is missing from this bill.

In May when the House passed this bill, it contained a suicide prevention provision that I authored, named in honor of Sergeant Coleman S. Bean of East Brunswick, New Jersey. Coleman did two combat tours in Iraq. In between and after those tours, he sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Because Sergeant Bean was a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, IRR--a pool of Reserve soldiers not assigned to any unit but available for mobilization if needed--he could not get treatment for his condition because the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs refused to take ownership of Sergeant Bean and the thousands like him.

The provision I authored sought to prevent future tragedies like the one experienced by Coleman and his family. Simply stated, the provision would require the Defense Department to make quarterly counseling phone calls to reservists like Coleman. Personnel conducting this call would be required to determine the emotional, psychological, medical, and career needs and concerns of the IRR member. Any IRR member identified as being at risk of harming his or her self would be immediately referred to the nearest emergency room for immediate evaluation and treatment by a qualified mental health care provider, and in those cases the Secretary would be required to confirm that the at-risk IRR member has in fact received the evaluation, and if necessary, treatment.

To my amazement and outrage, Senate negotiators demanded that this provision be removed from the conference report, claiming it was unnecessary. Nothing in this world could possibly be more necessary than doing whatever it takes to prevent our veterans from taking their own lives. As I've said on many occasions, if we can find the money to send our troops off to war, we can find the money to care for them when they return. I look forward to working with incoming Chairman Buck McKeon and our new Ranking Member, Republican SMITH of Washington, next year to finally get this provision into law.

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