Late tonight, the House passed the Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2003.  The following is a statement from Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in support of its passage.  

“As a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, I strongly support HR 4546, the FY03 Defense Authorization bill.  Along with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I worked hard to craft this bill that improves the Montgomery GI Bill benefits (MGIB), addresses our operational needs, helps ready our military for the war on terrorism and improves the quality of life for our servicemembers and veterans. 

“This legislation includes important Montgomery GI Bill improvements for reservists.  This measure increases from 10 to 14 years the time during which reservists can use their educational benefits.  I’ve worked a great deal on this issue and, earlier this year, I introduced the ‘Military Education Extension Act,’ would extend the time limit for use of MGIB benefits to 15 years for both active duty servicemembers and reservists.   While there is clearly more work to do on this issue, I believe this is a step in the right direction.  I’m committed to working with the DOD, the military associations and my colleagues in Congress to enhance education benefits for those who serve our nation.

“The authorization bill helps ready our nation to fight terrorism by providing $7.3 billion for DOD efforts to combat terrorism, including counterterrorism, force protection, counter-intelligence, and anti-terrorism programs, and help stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

“This measure also makes a great deal of progress in improving the quality of life for our men and women in uniform. First, HR 4546 provides a 4.1 percent military pay raise, with larger pay increases for mid-grade and senior noncommissioned 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 $500 million more than the President’s request, for military construction and family housing projects.

“Finally, the FY03 authorization bill addresses ‘concurrent receipt’ by eliminating the current offset that causes military retirees who are eligible for veteran’s disability compensation to have their retirement pay reduced. The bill establishes a payment transition program to compensate retirees who are 60 percent or greater disabled until fiscal year 2007, when all such retirees will receive their full retirement and disability compensation.  

“While no bill is perfect - for example, I’m not pleased with the environmental exemptions for the Department - I am confident that HR 4546 provides an effective, comprehensive blueprint for our military.  I believe that this legislation not only does right by our servicemembers, but enhances our military’s capacity to battle terrorism now and in the future.”