Madam Speaker, while the holiday season is a time of joy for most Americans, it can be a difficult period for service members and their families.
When I sit down with members of our all-volunteer force, whether it is in my district or in mess halls in Iraq, I am very aware of the stress military service can have on our service members.
The stress of being deployed over the holidays can only be more difficult.
Madam Speaker, a vital component of a strong national defense is the ability to care for members of our force as well as recruit and retain men and women to serve in the military.
To quote the first Commander-in-Chief, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." With this bill, current and future generations of service members will know that their nation cares for their sacrifice.
Madam Speaker, why is this bill important to the men and women in uniform?
It provides a 3.5 percent across the board pay raise for our troops. The compensation we provide our service members must remain competitive with the private sector.
We were also successful in making major improvements to the Reserve Montgomery GI bill. For the first time, there is a 10-year portability in benefits for reservists so they can continue to receive educational assistance after they separate.
Additionally, this bill will help services recruit and retain desperately needed health care professionals by prohibiting any further conversion of military medical professionals to civilian positions.
Madam Speaker, the mental health needs of our troops continue to grow and this bill includes a number of provisions that will improve access to quality care for members and their families. The creation of Centers of Excellence on TBI and PTSD is just one example.
This report also includes a number of the recommendations from the Dole-Shalala Commission, including an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover family members of those on active duty so that they can care for wounded service members on extended leave for up to 26 workweeks.
Family members will no longer have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a wounded loved one.
This bill addresses one of the concerns members have heard from their constituent reservists—early retirement. The bill would reduce the age at which a member of the Ready Reserve can draw retired pay below the age of 60 by 3 months for every aggregate 90 days of active duty performed under specified circumstances.
There is so much more I wish we could do for our men and women who serve, but I feel this bill represents the best efforts of this body to provide for our nation's Armed Forces and their families.
I would like to thank my predecessor, Representative Snyder, and the Personnel Subcommittee staff for all of their hard work on this conference report.
I urge all of my colleagues to support this measure and yield back the balance of my time.