DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - August 03, 2006)
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Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I have an amendment that calls for a Pentagon report on several aspects of the assistance we provide to the widows and children of our fallen soldiers. In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln said, ``let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.'' That simple, eloquent phrase has become the motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it certainly applies to programs run by the Department of Defense as well. Today we are considering the bill that funds the Department of Defense, including the offices that provide benefits to the survivors of our servicemen and servicewomen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I have recently seen and heard about enough instances of wives who are having problems getting the survivor benefits they should be getting, of delays in implementing a new health care benefit for the children of servicemembers who died on active duty, and similar problems that I think the Congress should hear from the Pentagon about them. In 18 months the regulations for this new health care program are not finished. That is costing a widow money or it is keeping her children from the health care they need. Or both. I would like to hear from the Pentagon what is taking so long.
A number of problems and delays I have heard or read of in the various benefit programs may be attributable to a simple lack of enough personnel to process forms, take calls, and get payments out. I want to hear from the Pentagon if there are enough people on board to get this important job done so that the families of our fallen soldiers do not suffer any more hardship than they already must.
I do commend the Defense Department for setting up a new call center that is designed to help survivors navigate the process through which they sign up for and receive these various benefits. I also want to know how that's working. For these reasons I am introducing an amendment that asks the Secretary of Defense to report back to Congress on these questions. It is fine for us to establish benefit programs but just as important to keep an eye on them and make sure they work, and without delays. I hope this amendment will be adopted, and I ask my colleagues for their support.
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