Congressman Tom Petri has two provisions in the Defense Department reauthorization bill which was approved by the House of Representatives Thursday evening. Petri voted for the legislation which passed with a 315-107 vote.
The first Petri provision will correct a government error to pay approximately 575 Army National Guard troops for the vacation days they earned through the Post Deployment Mobilization Respite Absence program that they were unable to take after their last deployment. Some have not been reimbursed for as long as five years.
Soldiers in Wisconsin are affected more than those in other states with 80 Wisconsin Army National Guardsmen impacted, most of whom are members of the 1157th Transportation Company based in Oshkosh. The 1157th is once again serving overseas after deploying to Afghanistan.
While the number of leave days due to each soldier varies, it is estimated that Petri's amendment would give an average payment of $5,100 to affected soldiers in Wisconsin.
"This is a simple matter of giving our troops what they are clearly owed," said Petri. "They are putting their lives on the line overseas, and they deserve to have us fix this."
Petri's provision incorporates H.R. 3863, the Fair Military Leave Act, which Petri introduced along with Congressman Ron Kind on February 1. Senator Herb Kohl introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
The bill also includes a Petri provision to strengthen the Troops to Teachers program that the Congressman has long championed.
"Troops to Teachers provides veterans with a $5,000 stipend to help cover the costs of teaching certification in exchange for three years of service in schools with a high percentage of low-income students," Petri said. "The Education Department defines qualifying schools far more strictly than we had intended in the original legislation. This provision allows more schools to participate, and also opens the program to more former servicemen and women."
Currently, 18 percent of Wisconsin's public schools are eligible to participate in Troops to Teachers. Petri's changes will allow 50 percent to benefit from the program.
The legislation is the result of negotiations between the House and the Senate over their respective versions of the defense reauthorization. The Senate is expected to approve the bill shortly.