[WASHINGTON, DC] – The National Defense Authorization Act approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee today includes several provision championed by U.S Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to support military families.
“We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the military families who make sacrifices every day in service to our country – supporting their well-being is our responsibility, and absolutely fundamental to our national security,” Blumenthal said. “I’m proud to have championed these measures, which will give military moms, dads, partners, and kids more resources and greater support to withstand the rigors of life in the military. It is only the beginning – our servicemembers and their families are our military’s greatest resource, and I’m going to keep fighting for them”
Military families make immense sacrifices and confront unique challenges, including frequent moves, the stress of deployments, and the difficulty of caring for a loved one who has been injured. Family members provide servicemembers with an invaluable support system, and their well-being is essential to overall military readiness and our national security.
This year’s NDAA recognizes that military family readiness is an essential element of overall military readiness by making significant investments in the services that our nation’s Blue Star families rely upon. Today, the Committee approved Blumenthal-authored provisions to:
- Prioritize Military Family Readiness: This provision will ensure that military commanders across the services are held accountable to military families, and prepared to assist military family members within their units by connecting them to available resources and providing support for families experiencing challenges with military housing, childcare, and food insecurity, among other issues. This provision is based on the Command Accountability for Military Family Readiness Act, which Blumenthal introduced with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
- Expand Support for Pregnant Servicemembers and Military Spouses: This provision establishes a five-year pilot program to provide TRICARE beneficiaries with access to doulas and lactation consultants. This provision is based on the TRICARE Coverage for Doula Support Act, which Blumenthal introduced with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
- Study Mental Health Resources for Military Moms: This provision requires a study to better understand prenatal and postpartum mental health conditions among servicemembers and dependents, which will help identify and remove barriers to maternal mental health care in the military. This provision is based on the Military Moms’ Mental Health Assessment Act, which Blumenthal introduced with U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA).
- Protect Military Family Members from Mental Health Discrimination When Seeking to Serve: This provision encourages the Department of Defense to review the medical waiver process for mental health conditions to ensure that military dependents who sought mental health care to cope with the stresses of military life are not discriminated against when they seek to serve later on. This provision is based on the Prevent Mental Health Discrimination During Military Accession Act, which Blumenthal introduced with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
- Protect Military Kids at Child Development Centers: This provision would identify and remove dangerous recalled consumer products in Department of Defense Child Development Centers (CDCs) to keep military dependents safe. This provision is based on legislation Blumenthal drafted, the Military Children’s Safety Act, earlier this year.
- Including Military Families in Consumer Safety Reports: Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) does not have access to adverse event data related to injuries or deaths on military bases from consumer products, which is critical to ensuring that military families are protected from dangerous products. This provision would ensure that any adverse event related to a consumer product that occurs on a military installation is reported on the internet website saferproducts.gov, maintained by the CPSC.
- Help Military Families Through the COVID-19 Pandemic: This provision directs the Secretary of Defense to formulate a plan to protect and promote the mental health and well-being of servicemembers and their dependents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The social isolation and travel restrictions, including stop-movement orders, necessary to combat the outbreak of the novel coronavirus will disproportionately impact the military community. These measures have already extended deployments and family separations. Military families are experiencing additional challenges during PCS moves, lack of access to child care, loss of civilian spouse employment, and decreased access to health care resources. Blumenthal urged the Secretary of Defense to take this action in a letter earlier this year.
- Increase Oversight of Military Housing: This provision requires the Department of Defense implement Inspector General recommendations to address health and safety standards at military housing. These reforms will also help assess the association between medical conditions of servicemembers and their families who resided in unsafe or unhealthy military housing and exposure to hazards such as dampness, lead-based paint, asbestos, and carbon monoxide.
- Help Prevent Suicide: This provision supports the Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM) program, which is currently being piloted by the Department of Defense. This program provides training to nonclinical support personnel, such as Military OneSource call center staff and military chaplains, on counseling on access to lethal means for individuals who may be at risk for suicide.
- Combat Child Abuse: This provision would implement Government Accountability Office recommendations to improve efforts to track and respond to incidents of child abuse involving military dependents on military installations. This provision is based on legislation that Blumenthal cosponsored, the End Military-Connected Child Abuse and Neglect Act.
Blumenthal also fought to increase investments in:
- Department of Defense (DOD) assistance to local educational agencies with military children to help cover unforeseen expenses related to COVID-19. The Committee-approved NDAA includes an increase of $50 million available to communities impacted by enrollment of dependent children of servicemembers and DOD civilians, like the communities surrounding the SUBASE in Groton, Connecticut.
- Safer playground equipment and furniture at Child Develop Centers on military bases. The Committee-approved NDAA includes an increase of $79 million for new Child Development Center playground equipment and furniture to address safety issues.
- Child Youth Services programs to support kids in the military The Committee-approved NDAA includes an increase of $47 million to improve key Child Youth Service programs, which provide military dependents with the necessary skills to navigate deployment cycles, promote academic success, and prepare participants to meet the challenges of military life, adolescence, and adulthood. This additional funding will be used to increase classroom resources, expand training for child care providers, provide transportation for kids enrolled in after school programs, and replace classroom computers.