Fights for provisions to benefit service members & veterans exposed to open-air burn pits, troops & military families, safety at national labs
By Tom Udall Press Office
U.S. Senator Tom Udalljoined the full Senate in voting to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a major bill to benefit New Mexico’s service members and military families, veterans, military bases, and defense programs throughout the state. The NDAA, which passed the Senate by a margin of 85-10 and must now be reconciled with a House version of the bill, contains a number of provisions that Udall fought for to strengthen New Mexico.
“The funding authorized by this major defense bill will provide critical support to New Mexico, which – thanks to our proud tradition of service and our premier military bases and federal installations – plays an outsized and essential role in the national defense,” Udall said. “This bill gives a well-deserved pay raise to our men and women in uniform. And, it includes several provisions I championed to benefit veterans and military families, and to bolster the critical national security work being done across our state. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, where these defense programs are ultimately funded, I will keep fighting for the resources we need to keep New Mexico and the nation strong and secure.”
Specific provisions of the NDAA that Udall has championed include:
– Pay Raise for Troops: The NDAA authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for members of the Armed Forces.
– Fighting for Justice for Victims of Burn Pit Exposure: In 2013, Udall and Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) passed the landmark Open Burn Pit Registry Act, which established the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry – a key step toward providing medical care and research for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Udall included an amendment to the NDAA to help strengthen the burn pit registry, to better understand the long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards during deployment. Udall’s amendment will implement recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to improve the registry and expand registration among service members and veterans. In addition, Udall’s amendment requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to report on any ongoing uses of open-air burn pits. Text of the amendment is available HERE.
“Many men and women in uniform were exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals from burn pits while serving our country overseas,” Udall said. “And many of these same service members and veterans are battling illnesses that they can trace back to that exposure. My amendment will help strengthen the burn pits registry that we established under the original Burn Pit Registry Act, taking another important step toward understanding the long-term effects of burn pit exposure – and ultimately providing the necessary treatment and care to those who have been exposed.”
– The Mothers of Military Service (MOMS) Leave Act: Udall introduced with Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) the MOMS Leave Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that women serving in the National Guard and Reserves can take maternity leave without worrying about how it will affect their creditable military service. The Department of Defense established new policies for maternity leave in 2016, authorizing 12 weeks fully paid maternity leave after normal pregnancy and childbirth. However, under the current law, female service members in the Reserve Component can lose out on credit for their military service and points towards retirement while they are on maternity leave. Reserve component members in inactive duty training status are still required to attend unit training assemblies. And if the female service member does not perform duty within the allotted timeframe, she is in jeopardy of not receiving credit toward retirement. This bill ensures that female service members of the reserve component receive pay and points for 12 pay periods toward retirement after normal pregnancy and childbirth. The MOMS Leave Act was included in the House version of the NDAA, and Udall will fight to make sure that the measure is passed as part of the final legislation.
“Our service members make great sacrifices to serve our country, they should not also have to sacrifice their hard-earned pay and credits because they took time off to care for their newborn baby,” Udall said.
– Improving Safety at NM’s National Labs: The bill authorizes $31.2 million to fund the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to ensure that operations at New Mexico’s Sandia and Los Alamos national labs are kept safe for workers and the community. The DNFSB is an independent body of expert board members and staff created to conduct safety reviews at Department of Energy nuclear facilities and offer public recommendations to the president and secretary of Energy periodically on important projects and procedures needed to ensure workers and the public are protected from dangerous nuclear materials. Udall and Heinrich successfully included a provision in last year’s NDAA to oppose efforts by the previous Chairman of the Board to terminate the board during the first year of the Trump Administration.
– Construction Projects at NM Bases and Facilities: The bill authorizes $10.3 billion for military construction projects nationwide, an increase of $228 million above fiscal year 2018, and authorizes more than $125 million for funding for critical projects in New Mexico. Udall and Heinrich championed this funding for projects at Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, and Kirtland Air Force Base.