By Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.) - 10/19/09 11:55 PM EDT
Two weeks ago, I stood on the steps of the Capitol and heard from military spouses about the needs of their families. These men and women have taken the initiative and are working the halls of Congress to raise awareness of their cause. Every day, military spouses, volunteering as family readiness volunteers and Navy ombudsmen, act as liaisons between the services and other military spouses.
These military spouses are taking a proactive approach to solving the problems their families face, and Congress is responding with provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House recently approved the conference report to the NDAA, which is now pending in the Senate.
As chairwoman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, I am especially proud of our subcommittee’s efforts to improve the quality of life for military families. This year’s defense bill contains a number of provisions that demonstrate our nation’s recognition for the sacrifices service members and their families make every day.
The defense authorization bill provides the benefits that we are familiar with, such as a 3.4 percent pay increase, no increase in TRICARE inpatient fees for this year, and $30 million for Impact Aid to local schools, just to name a few.
However, Congress is venturing into other areas of support for service members and their spouses.
The NDAA establishes the first-ever intern pilot program for military spouses to obtain employment with other federal agencies and departments. These employment opportunities will hopefully lead to advancement careers that would be portable when a spouse relocates from station to station.
Historically, Congress has made education assistance for the men and women who serve a top priority. Such aid is now being extended to military spouses. A tuition assistance program was established for eligible military spouses to develop portable careers. Just imagine the education and employment possibilities for a military family if both the service member and the spouse can take advantage of these education benefits.
Too many military families are dealing with the psychological effects of war and repeated deployments, which can leave multiple victims behind in their wake. As some service members suffer from the affects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their spouses and children can suffer along with them. This can lead to the end of a marriage, or worse, violence or suicide.
One of the greatest challenges facing Congress has been to properly address how we approach recognizing and treating PTSD in our service members. For the first time, face-to-face mental health screenings will be a required practice for service members returning from war. This has been difficult in the past due to an insufficient number of mental health providers in the United States.
To address this shortage, Congress has directed an increase in the number of military mental health providers and efforts to identify the appropriate number of military mental health providers still needed.
Congress also augmented the total number of health profession scholarships offered by the department by 300 to accommodate these students, which will help add mental health professionals with the skills needed for providing mental health care to our service members.
Under the NDAA, the Department of Defense is directed to provide scholarships to students pursuing degrees in social work, clinical psychology, psychiatry, or other disciplines that contribute to mental health programs.
These benefits are a small price to pay for the protection and service that our men and women in uniform provide to our country every day. They make enormous sacrifices and live under unique circumstances. The benefits Congress provides hopefully can balance their needs and those sacrifices.
As we move forward, we will no doubt discover additional needs of our service members and their families. We expect our military to adapt to its environment; so must Congress adapt to the challenges of providing for these brave men and women.
Davis is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and chairwoman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee.