Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash) supported passage of H.R. 4546, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003.  The bill, which provides approximately $393 billion for the nation’s defense programs, was approved by voice vote.  It now awaits Senate action before being sent to the president for his approval.

Last month, Smith, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted to instruct conferees on the bill to agree to Senate language providing full concurrent receipt for veterans, reinforcing the nation’s commitment to veterans.  Unfortunately, some of the president’s senior advisors had pledged to recommend that he veto the defense authorization measure if either more complete concurrent receipt provisions from the House and Senate had been included in the final bill.  

The Defense Authorization bill greatly improves the quality of life for our men and women in uniform.  The bill provides a 4.1 percent military pay raise, with larger pay increases for mid-grade and senior non-commissioned officers and mid-grade officers, reduces out-of-pocket housing costs for military personnel by increasing housing allowances to cover 92.5 percent of all housing costs and provides more than $10 billion to build new military housing and working facilities for military personnel and their families.

“This bill provides the essential and fundamental tools to fight the global war on terrorism and secure the homeland.  It focuses on three vital objectives for our military:  protecting and defending America’s homeland, supporting U.S. service members and their families, and better equipping troops with training, equipment and weapons to fight and win the war against terrorism.  In order to effectively fight and win the war on terrorism, our military must have the best equipment and training available and this bill moves us firmly in that direction,” said Smith.  “Despite the progress that we have made in the quality of life for our men and women currently serving in the military, I am very concerned about the failure to deliver on our promise to our veterans.  Retirement pay is a hard-earned benefit for our veterans and we have only begun to fulfill the commitment we have made to our nation's veterans.  I am extremely disappointed by the failure to fully fix concurrent receipt with this legislation.  After many conversations with veterans and after attending the rally just two days ago with Sen. John Kerry, I am more determined than ever to make sure that all our veterans are justly compensated for their service and dedication.  I will continue to press for fully enacted, fully funded concurrent receipt.”

The bill creates a new payment for all military retirees who were wounded in combat and received the Purple heart and those retirees who were severely disabled in combat-related incidents.  Monthly payments would range from $103 to $2,100 each month, depending upon the level of disability, and would represent a partial to full offset of the reduction in retired pay required by current law on concurrent receipt.

“While this represents progress in the fight for concurrent receipt, we clearly have a long way to go.  I look forward to working with my likeminded colleagues in both the House and the Senate to fulfill our promises to this nation’s veterans,” Smith concluded.

Under present law, service-disabled military retirees must surrender a portion of their retired pay if they want to receive the disability compensation to which they are entitled.  Congress enacted this unjust law in 1891, and it affects approximately 550,000 disabled military retirees.  Military retirees are the only federal employees affected by the offset.  For 17 years, legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to correct this long-standing inequity.
  
Other highlights of H.R. 4546 include:

Combating Terrorism:  More than $15 billion for programs to combat terrorism and defend the homeland against weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Funding the War Against Terrorism:  The bill authorizes $10 billion for ongoing costs of the War Against Terrorism.

New Weapons/Equipment:  The bill authorizes approximately $130 billion to develop, test, and build new military weapons and equipment.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith has been a strong advocate of full funding for concurrent receipt.  He believes that health care is a critical issue not only for our military retirees and their dependents, but also for those who are considering a career in the military.  Improving the treatment of personnel, retirees and veterans is not only the right thing to do, but is critical to our national security.  If we want to continue leading the world in military power, we must have to have the best Armed Services.