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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MILLER of Florida. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

On the 10th of June, 2010, the Secretary of the Army, a former member of this body, John McHugh, appointed Kathryn Condon, a former high-ranking senior civilian Army official with a strong management background, the first executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program. There is every indication that she is qualified and well suited for the post.

The Army created the new position to oversee Arlington National Cemetery and Soldiers Home National Cemetery as a result of the problems that have been discussed by my friend and colleague, Mr. Wittman. In its initial recommendation, the Army did not state that the newly created executive director position should be filled by a military official, and since that time has not provided any rationale stating why a military official would be better suited for this position rather than a civilian with credentials like Ms. Condon's.

This amendment would establish the military chain of command, requiring the executive director of the Army Cemeteries Programs be a commissioned officer, replacing the current civilian in that position. Army oversight over the Cemeteries Program remains very strong by virtue of the fact that Ms. Condon reports directly to the Secretary of the Army. There is every indication today that Ms. Condon has performed her duties in a competent and effective manner. All IG and Advisory Committee reports show that significant progress at Arlington has been made under her leadership. Ms. Condon's status as a civilian does not affect the overall authority of the Army over the program or any aspect of the operations under her care.

I note that the Secretary of the Army, Secretary McHugh, wrote a strong letter of opposition to this amendment for the reasons that I have just addressed, and I would urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment.


Mr. MILLER of Florida. I do rise in opposition but not in strong opposition because I agree with what the gentleman from Maryland is attempting to do, but I need to oppose it for several reasons.

First, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is designed to strike a balance between the needs of a servicemember and their civilian obligations, and I don't believe that anybody in this body would ever do something that could make life more difficult for them.

The changes to SCRA made by this amendment are worthy of vetting under regular order through the Committee on Veterans Affairs. Currently, real estate protections apply to purchases made before being called to active duty. However, section (A)(3) of the amendment would extend SCRA coverage to real estate purchased at any time, including while on active duty under certain circumstances.

That section alone makes a significant change to a provision that is over 70 years old. And while I don't necessarily oppose such an extension, we need to get the views of the major stakeholders, including the VA and the home mortgage industry.

Secondly, as written, some provisions are open to very wide interpretation. For example, there is a provision that provides a 12-month protection from foreclosure to those who are separated or retired because of a disability and rated by VA as permanently and totally disabled.

Since it's very rare that a servicemember would actually leave the military with a 100 percent rating from the VA and the VA adjudication process, as most of us know, can take months, if not years in some cases, how would this provision be implemented? That is left unclear in this amendment. For example, would a bank be required to give back a foreclosed home if the veteran was found several years later to be rated as totally and permanently disabled?

The amendment also contains a significant increase in penalties for violating SCRA provisions. And again, while I don't necessarily oppose the change, I think we need to hear from the legal community on these provisions.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. MILLER of Florida. I appreciate the ranking member drawing attention to the fact that this is bottled up in the Senate, even though it has passed the House in regards to the extending of the sunset provisions of the SCRA.

I would say that, to confirm our concerns, my staff actually talked with an expert on SCRA who was the author of the 2003 major revisions, and here were some of his concerns:

Nothing mandates that a deployed servicemember give notice of their deployment to the financial institution. Without this information, how will the institution know that the servicemember is now covered by these new protections under SCRA?

The current Web site that financial institutions use to see if somebody is on active duty does not differentiate between deployed and nondeployed, thereby making it extremely difficult for the financial institution to keep track.

What is going to be the duration of the protection for surviving spouses--which is something Mr. Smith just brought up--and disabled veterans? Indefinitely? He says no. But will institutions be discouraged from making loans to servicemembers because of this potential problem?

If we believe that we should expand this protection to mortgages, why not extend the protections to other areas?

These are the types of complex questions that really should be thought out and reviewed by experts in this area under regular order. That is why we have committees in this process.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. MILLER of Florida. I would say that absolutely, if this were just an extension of SCRA to get past the sunset provisions, we would not have a problem with that. But I know, as any other Member in here, that the last thing we would want to do is to cause a problem for our veterans without thinking through all the potential consequences.

I would note that Mr. Cummings introduced an identical piece of legislation, H.R. 5737, earlier this week, which would give the Committee on Veterans' Affairs an opportunity to review these issues. I would ask the gentleman to give our committee an opportunity to review this proposal in bill form through regular order. I pledge my commitment to work with you to make sure that your concerns are addressed in proper fashion.

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


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