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Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BARROW. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We Americans owe no greater debt than we owe the men and women of our armed services who risk their lives to protect our freedoms. We currently have around 350,000 troops deployed overseas. About a third of that number come from our National Guard and Reserve.

While most Americans don't know it, many National Guard members don't get the same support we give career servicemembers. When many National Guardsmen and -women get on the plane to go overseas, their families don't even know about the services that are available to them, and when many of those troops get back home, they don't have the help they need to get back into their daily lives.

To address this disparity, in 2008, Congress established the yellow ribbon reintegration program to provide a support program tailored to meet the needs of National Guard and Reserve combat veterans and their families. The yellow ribbon program helps servicemembers and their families throughout deployment, with programs such as career counseling, suicide prevention, access to health care, veterans benefits, and education benefits. This final amendment would increase funding for that program by $200 million.

There is an excellent program in my district called the Augusta Wounded Warrior Project. They have several projects in Georgia to help wounded veterans. I've had the honor of working with them on some of these priorities and to meet with some of the returning veterans they have helped. What I hear over and over is that veterans can't take advantage of the many different support services available to them if they don't know about them or don't know how to navigate the bureaucracy that runs them. The yellow ribbon program helps our National Guard and Reserve combat veterans make that connection and get the services that they've earned.

According to the 2010 annual report to Congress, the yellow ribbon program held over 2,000 events and had over 300,000 contacts with individual servicemembers and their family members. That's a 50 percent increase in participation over 2009. And as the total number of returning National Guard and Reserve combat veterans goes up, the need goes up. This amendment will help make sure that the yellow ribbon program can help meet that need.

My amendment makes these funds available through a transfer from the account for the Afghanistan security forces fund. That account is funded in this bill at $12.8 billion. While I think those funds are an important part of our strategy for long-term success in Afghanistan, I think the highest and best use of a very small part of that money is to help our National Guard and Reserve combat veterans get back on their feet again.

My amendment would use about 1.5 percent of that money for this purpose, which I think is reasonable. In exchange for about 1.5 percent of what we're about to provide to help the Afghans take care of themselves, we can provide a 125 percent increase in support for those American soldiers and their families who make it all possible. I think that's a pretty good deal.

Finally, my amendment will not in any way delay final passage of this important legislation. If adopted, we move straight to a final vote on passage of this legislation.

I want to thank the chairman and the ranking member for their service and for their work on this bill. I think my amendment will have virtually no adverse impact on what we're trying to do for Afghanistan, but it will have a huge positive impact in meeting the needs of our combat veterans and their families. I hope that's something we can all support.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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