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Weekly Column: National Defense Bill Bridges Partisan Divide


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All too often in Washington, partisan gridlock seems to be the name of the game. But last week, in a reassuring display of will, the Senate put aside its differences to pass important legislation for our men and women in uniform, our veterans and our national security.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes Department of Defense operations, passed in the Senate by a vote of 98-0. The NDAA included some important provisions for Nebraska as well as some bipartisan amendments I offered to help our veterans.

One of these amendments, the Helping Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Return to Employment (HIRE) at Home Act, is designed to remove barriers for returning veterans with ambitions of using their military skills and training for civilian jobs. Many military personnel receive specialized training for work in the harshest of environments, only to find their skills as machinery operators, truck drivers or paramedics, don't meet certification or licensing requirements back home. The amendment encourages states to consider the specialized military training for some of these jobs as filling all or some of the state certification and licensing requirements, making it easier for veterans to continue similar work in a civilian capacity.

Another amendment, which I introduced with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), expands housing repair and modification services to veterans through public-private partnerships. The amendment was supported by the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Habitat for Humanity. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs currently assist eligible disabled veterans and service members with housing modifications. However, not all veterans who are disabled or low-income qualify for this program. This amendment attempts to rectify this gap in housing assistance.

In addition to helping our veterans, the NDDA also authorized funding to continue work on the much-needed new command and control facility for Strategic Command (STRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base. The NDAA included authorization of $128 million for the ongoing construction of the new STRATCOM facility. This is the second installment for the estimated $525 million project, which has already received $120 million, and must continue to be funded in annual authorizations. The 915,876 square-foot facility will house state-of-the-art computer and information systems that will enhance STRATCOM's ability to respond to new and complex threats around the globe.

Also, with Cyber Command housed at STRATCOM, I offered a resolution asking the Department of Defense to consult Congress on any recommended unified command changes, in order to provide the proper legislative oversight to this important area of national defense.

The way in which the Senate acted to pass the NDAA is a refreshing reminder that Congress can work in a bipartisan fashion. And it must do so once more before the end of the year to avoid the fiscal cliff and prevent the largest tax hike in American history. I remain optimistic that we can do this for the good of America.

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