Beyond DADT: The Other Military Priorities Republicans Are Obstructing

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) — which came out in favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell last week — has put out this press release reminding lawmakers that repeal is addressed in just two of the 849 pages that make up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill as a whole contains numerous other military priorities that the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman are all hoping Congress will pass before the end of the year. They include:

– Expanding the number of DoD mental health providers. There is a chronic shortage of mental health providers in the military. With rates of mental health injuries and suicide rising higher every month, the DoD is in desperate need of providers to help service members identify and combat invisible wounds. (Senate §703)

– Eradicating Military Sexual Trauma. NDAA contains 29 recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military, including modernizing the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the creation of a sexual assault reporting hot line. (House §1601-1664)

– DoD/VA record sharing. NDAA would change HIPAA to allow records to migrate between the DoD and the VA. (Senate §715, House §532)

– Military pay raise and bonuses. NDAA provides a 1.9% pay increase for all service members and the extension of a host of recruitment and retention bonuses set to expire. (House §601)

– Improving military health. Authorizes $30.9 billion for the Defense Health Program and TRICARE coverage for eligible dependents up to age 26. [Added by me]

What’s happening here is that the very same Republicans who were blasting Democrats for voting against military funding to protest the Iraq war are now using their objection to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — which the majority of the military actually supports — to obstruct and delay the above benefits and pay increases. In fact, they’re even prioritizing extending tax cuts for the richest Americans to the provisions in the defense bill. And, they’re somehow getting away with it all.

To be sure, some (but not all) of these pieces will be transferred into the continuing resolution (CR) and several are already included in the House CR, which passed last night. For instance, the CR “Provides DoD broad authority to realign funding to accommodate programs and projects planned for FY 2011” and “Extends several authorities required for military pay and bonuses and compensation for civilian employees serving in theater, and authorities needed for overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.” The House CR also includes including “funds for a 1.4% military pay raise” — which was part of the Senate defense bill.

But only in the Senate are two pages in a bill and a completely unrelated priority reason enough to vote against even starting debate on the issue.