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Improve the Lives of Our Troops instead of Endangering them

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. WOOLSEY. Madam Speaker, there are few things more important for us to deal with than the health and safety of our men and women in uniform. For everything they do, for all the courage they've shown and the sacrifices that they've made, we must be absolutely vigilant about protecting them from unnecessary risk.

That's why I was troubled to hear news reports about several of our most highly trained and skilled Air Force pilots experiencing loss of oxygen while in the cockpit of the F 22 aircraft. We're talking about blacking out, losing control of the plane, and suffering memory loss. In fact, 18 percent of those who flew the F 22 reported an incident similar to this. In fact, one family blames this mysterious affliction for a crash that killed their loved one.

We have some of our most fearless pilots afraid and even refusing to take the controls of the F 22. Two pilots went so far as to appear on shows like "60 Minutes'' without permission from their superiors so that they could expose the problem.

In response, Madam Speaker, I prepared an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the House will debate today. My amendment would cut off funding for the F 22 until the Pentagon inspector general completes an investigation on these malfunctions and finds a solution to protect the safety of our pilots.

Thankfully, my amendment wasn't necessary because, yesterday, Secretary of Defense Panetta took steps to impose flight restrictions on the F 22, demanding that the Air Force take stronger safety measures to protect our troops. Because of the Secretary's response to these life-and-death concerns, I have withdrawn my amendment, but I will stay on top of the situation.

The F 22 isn't exactly a "bargain basement'' item, Madam Speaker. Throughout the life of the program, it's cost taxpayers $79 billion. And that's for a plane originally designed to fight the next generation of Soviet jet, even though the Soviet Union, itself, didn't have a next generation, and it doesn't even exist any longer. What's more, the F 22 hasn't flown a single mission in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It troubles me, Madam Speaker, that we've spent so much on slick, supposedly state-of-the-art aircraft that are making our Air Force pilots dangerously sick--at a moment when we could use that money on programs our service members badly need. For example, veterans groups are fighting for more resources for mental health treatment, for job placement, for access to education, for VA home loans, and much more. Certainly we should invest in improving the lives of our troops instead of endangering them.

My Republican colleagues are fond of pointing out that we're in a challenging fiscal environment where every government expenditure should receive the strictest scrutiny. I just hope that they'll apply as tough a standard to expensive weapons systems as they do to foreign humanitarian aid and important domestic safety net programs right here at home.

As we debate the defense authorization today, we must choose the defense programs that actually enhance our national security over ones like the F 22 that are creating more problems than solutions.

Madam Speaker, I believe more strongly than ever that we need to end the war in Afghanistan, supporting our troops by bringing them home; but, in the meantime, making sure that the planes they fly and the equipment they use are as safe as possible is certainly our number one responsibility. We owe them nothing less.

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