I have a deep admiration and appreciation for my fellow servicemen and women and their families. As a Colonel in the Army Reserve and a graduate of the U.S. Army War College with a Masters of Strategic Studies, I have the knowledge and experience necessary to provide a unique perspective on the status of our nation's security. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I am fully committed to improving the welfare and quality of life for both current members of our Armed Services and our veterans.
Efforts of the coalition forces in Afghanistan have resulted in substantial improvements in the security situation over the past few years, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently announced that by mid-to-late 2013 the remaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan will transition from a combat role to a training and assist role.
These developments are encouraging, and I look forward to ending our involvement in Afghanistan. I do not support an immediate withdrawal of all forces from Afghanistan. A sudden withdrawal is a threat to our vital national security interests. Abandoning this mission will enable Al-Qaida and other transnational terrorist organizations to reestablish the sanctuaries they enjoyed under the rule of the Taliban prior to September 11, 2001 which would completely undermine the successes our troops have fought so hard to achieve. We must ensure that the Afghan government has the ability to stand on its own, protect the Afghan people, and prevent the reestablishment of terrorist organizations.
As an active member of the Army Reserve for more than 20 years, and a Colonel responsible for more than 2000 soldiers, I don't take the commitment of troops to combat lightly. We must ensure that we do not undermine the long-term security needs of the United States and that any withdrawal of forces is based on conditions on the ground, not on an arbitrary timeline. Providing for the common defense is one of the most important responsibilities of the federal government, and I take this responsibility very seriously.
Recently, at my request, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel held a hearing on the proposed changes to the military retirement structure outlined in the Defense Business Board's report titled, "Modernizing the Military Retirement System." I am opposed to changes to the current military retirement system and cuts to veterans' pensions. Our military personnel and veterans deserve to know, with certainty, that they will receive the benefits they were promised and have earned. Failing to live up to our commitments will only serve to undermine our military and will severely diminish its ability to recruit and retain highly qualified individuals.
Housing Assistance Program
The current Department of Defense (DOD) Housing Assistance Program (HAP) provides mortgage and foreclosure assistance to service members affected by the base realignment and closures (BRAC). Additionally, the HAP program was recently expanded to assist service members and DOD employees under certain circumstances. However, when the program was expanded it required that, in order to receive assistance, an individual must have purchased their home prior to July 1, 2006.
Unfortunately, this date excludes a great number of service members. Many of the airmen living in and around Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases purchased their homes after the July 1, 2006 deadline, at a time when the housing market in Nevada was still relatively stable. These service members are thus ineligible to receive assistance under the DoD HAP.
I offered an amendment that was included in the House-passed version of the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, intended to begin to address this issue. My amendment requires the Secretary of Defense to produce a study detailing the number of service members nationwide who are affected by the housing crisis but currently ineligible to receive assistance under the DoD HAP. Furthermore, my amendment requires the Secretary of Defense to provide the House Armed Services Committee with recommendations for addressing this issue. Like you, I believe that we owe it to our service members to find a solution to this problem.
Stolen Valor Act
I introduced a bill to update the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. I introduced this bill in order to alleviate First Amendment concerns with the original law, and to protect the sanctity of military service and awards. This legislation will strengthen current law by punishing those who misrepresent their military service with the intention of obtaining anything of value. This legislation also strengthens current law by expanding the definition of misrepresentation to include any false claims of military service, service in a combat zone, and service in a special operations force. I'm committed to ensuring that those who served and sacrificed are properly recognized and prevent those seeking false praise from benefitting from the service of others.
Military Pay and Benefits
I am committed to maintaining pay and benefits for our service members. In May 2011, President Obama announced that his Administration intends to cut 400 billion dollars from the Department of Defense (DoD) budget over the next 12 years. Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested that these cost savings should come from pay and benefits before cuts to programs and personnel.
I was disappointed with this suggestion and do not support any cuts to military pay and benefits. I voted to increase military salaries when I supported the passage of H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act, because we should not ask our service members to take a pay cut when we are engaged in three wars and they are serving multiple deployments.