Congressman Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) made the following statement today on the National Defense Authorization Bill:

“I am pleased that Congress has finished work on the National Defense Authorization bill. The final product shows the commitment of Congress to our service men and women, retirees, veterans and their families. I have long been an advocate for our military and veterans and am pleased that we have included many provisions in the final bill that will help to improve their lives. I would like to highlight some of the key provisions included in the final bill that I have been priorities for me:

PAY RAISE

We were able to give our service men and women a 3.5% pay raise across the board. We recognize the work and sacrifice that our men and women in uniform give each and every day and we need to live up to our responsibilities and give them the financial means to support themselves and their families.

AERIAL REFUELING TANKERS

The conference report authorizes a multiyear procurement of 100 new aerial refueling tankers, replacing a leasing deal. It also establishes competition for the contract to maintain the new tankers and leaves in place previously-mandated studies to determine refueling needs and the correct approach to meeting them.

I’m pleased that we’ve taken clear steps to meet Air Force requirement for new tanker aircraft. By doing so, we enhance the readiness and projection capabilities of our Air Force while at the same time bolstering the American commercial aircraft production base. I’m confident that we’re now able to move forward on this key program and it’s my expectation that it is in the best interest of the Air Force and taxpayers.

The tanker agreement means that our Air Force will be better able to face the challenges of tomorrow and meet the tasks we ask of them – we’re giving them the tools they need to support missions and win.

CONCURRENT RECEIPT FOR 100% SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABLED VETERANS

I’m pleased that we have finally ended the veteran’s tax on some of our deserving veterans. The bill provides for full concurrent receipt to military retirees with service-connected disabilities rated as 100 percent beginning January 1, 2005.

TRICARE FOR NATIONAL GUARD AND RESERVISTS

Non-active duty reservists who have been called to active duty on or after September 11, 2001, for more than 30 days and commit to continue serving in the national guard or reserves would be eligible for health care coverage.  For each 90 days of continuous active duty, a reservist would be entitled to one additional year of coverage.  The bill would also authorize one year of coverage for a member who may otherwise be eligible but was unable to fulfill the requirement due to an injury, illness or disease incurred while deployed.

This is critical in retaining the best all-volunteer military in the world. With the sacrifices that our service men and women make every day, we must ensure that they have access to the health care that they need.

END STRENGTH

While not a complete solution to the problem facing the shortage of troops in our military, the bill does provide for an increase in the end strength of the Army by 20,000 and the Marine Corps by 3,000 in FYT 05. I would like to see these numbers increase, with an end strength of the Army of at least 40,000, but this bill is a good start on that goal.

DOE SICK WORKER COMPENSATION

The bill transfers the responsibility of handling claims by former Department of Energy (DOE) employees from the Department of Energy to the Department of Labor.  DOE has mishandled the claims of 25,000 nuclear weapons production workers who developed serious illnesses after exposure to toxic or radioactive materials at DOE sites.  We must ensure that those who have been affected by working at Hanford get their cases handled in a timely and effective manner and this bill does that.  The bill also provides for medical benefits and compensation to these workers and their survivors.  Former uranium workers are also made eligible for these payments.

These are just some of the highlights of this important piece of legislation. As our troops are involved in conflicts around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan, we must do everything that we can to ensure that we are upholding our promise to them:  provide them the best equipment and training in the world, a first-class health care system and ensure that their families are taken care of on the home front. This bill recognizes the sacrifice that our service men and women make and I am proud to support this piece of legislation.”