Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, all D-Delaware, applauded the passage of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 17, which each of them voted in support of.
The bill includes a number of wins for Delaware and the country, such as funding for a training center for Army Reservists in Newark, support for service members who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, and 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all federal workers. The bill passed both chambers of Congress and is now headed to the president’s desk for signature.
“One of our most serious responsibilities is to ensure that our troops have the resources necessary to help keep our country and our citizens safe,” said Carper, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves. “This year’s defense bill makes critical investments to support the men and women serving in our Armed Forces and their families, strengthen our military capabilities, bolster our nation’s cyber defenses and counter ever-evolving threats to our national security. This bill also authorizes $21 million for a new Army Reserve Center in Newark — funding I’m proud to have worked alongside Sen. Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester to secure. However, our support for the men and women serving in the military must extend beyond just dollars and cents. I regret that the bipartisan amendment I worked on with Sen. Udall which would prevent the Trump administration from taking military action against Iran without the approval of Congress was left out of this final package. I also remain incredibly disappointed that, while this bill will enact several important bipartisan provisions dealing with PFAS chemicals, this Congress failed to protect the tens of thousands of servicemen and women living on or near military sites, including two in Delaware, whose drinking water systems have PFAS contamination. I believe we have a sworn and solemn duty to protect the brave men and women who serve our country. Our men and women in uniform and the people who love them have sacrificed enough already, and we ought to do everything we can to ensure they have clean, safe drinking water.”
“I’m proud to support this year’s defense policy bill, which provides important benefits to military families, supports the Delaware economy, and enhances our nation’s security,” said Coons. “In particular, the bill authorizes a new $21 million Army Reserve Center in Newark to serve as a modern training facility for Delaware’s Reservists and $28 million for upgrades to the Army’s heavy lift Chinook helicopter to be carried out by hardworking Delawareans around the region. With so many challenges around the world, it is encouraging to see broad bipartisan support for America’s global leadership. At the same time, I think the Congress must do more to restrain President Trump’s most reckless policies, especially in the Middle East. The defense bill does not include provisions to end the 2002 authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, curtail U.S. arms sales to the Saudi-led war in Yemen or prevent President Trump from starting an unconstitutional war with Iran. I’ve supported numerous bipartisan bills on these issues and will continue to push for the passage of these stand-alone bills. I also share my colleagues’ disappointment at the missed opportunity to do much more to address PFAS contamination on and around our military bases.”
“This year’s National Defense Authorization Act provides a well-deserved pay raise for our troops, implements a National Defense Strategy to confront our foremost adversaries, and provides support and assistance for the families of our armed forces,” said Blunt Rochester. “I am pleased a number of priorities that I have been fighting for throughout this Congress made it into the final package, including repealing the widow’s tax, instituting paid parental leave for federal workers, encouraging the expansion of the Space Available flights program and requiring a report to Congress on the impact of expanding the program. I am, however, very disappointed this package did not include a comprehensive set of protections from PFAS contamination. We are facing a public health crisis from PFAS in Delaware. We’ve seen the urgency and severity of this problem in Blades, New Castle, and at the Dover Air Force Base. The NDAA was an important opportunity to address this crisis and I’m disappointed Congress chose not to take advantage of it.”
The annual defense bill passed Dec. 17 includes provisions that will benefit Delaware:
— Army Reserve Center: The National Defense Authorization Act authorizes $21 million for the construction of a 300-member training center for Army Reservists in Newark, which will replace Delaware’s aging Reserve facilities that do not meet current standards for protection of servicemembers. The new training center will be located right off the Interstate 95 corridor, providing a convenient location for drilling and recruitment.
— Chinook Block II Program: The bill includes an additional $28 million for advance procurement of the CH-47 Chinook Block II program. This heavy lift aircraft is critical to the Army and to national security, and the Block II program is a win for the hundreds of Delaware Boeing employees at Ridley Park.
— The Widow’s Tax: The National Defense Authorization Act also includes legislation cosponsored by Carper, Coons and Blunt Rochester to repeal the so-called widow’s tax, which prevents surviving spouses of military members from receiving full benefits from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
— Evaluation of Exposure to Burn Pits: The defense authorization also includes legislation co-sponsored by Coons, the Burn Pits Accountability Act, which requires the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to improve evaluation and documentation of service members’ exposure to “burn pits.” Burn pits have been used in overseas combat operations to burn waste, resulting in military personnel being exposed to smoke and potentially harmful substances. Under provisions in this year’s NDAA, service members will be evaluated for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals in routine health exams. Servicemembers who served near a burn pit would also be automatically enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.