By Susan A. Davis | District 53 Dispatch
The annual defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is a rare area of consistent bipartisanship in Congress. No matter where Democrats and Republicans stand on other issues, we all want and need to provide for our national defense, as well as our service members and their families.
On May 9, the House Armed Services Committee considered this year’s NDAA in a marathon session that lasted over 14 hours. We considered hundreds of amendments from the more than 60 members on the committee.
In preparing for each NDAA, I look to build on past successes and always keep San Diego, our military families, and our veterans in mind.
As a senior member of the committee, I secured provisions critical to our region and national security. They make needed improvements in a wide range of areas including border sewage spills, child care for service members and health care for disabled veterans, as well as spending our limited dollars on aircraft maintenance rather than expanding nuclear weapons accounts the military has not requested.
San Diegans are all too familiar with the sewage spills from Tijuana. Beach closures in Imperial Beach are becoming all too common, with 160 days of closures to parts of its shoreline over the past three years.
With the Navy set to build a 600-acre Navy SEAL training center along Route 75, we need to know the national security implications that future border sewage spills will have. The last thing we want is our elite Navy SEALs, our families and our visitors to swim in water contaminated with sewage. Additionally, we do not want vital SEAL training operations delayed.
To help find a solution to these sewage spills, I directed the Navy to assess those security concerns and report back to Congress. While we must continue to push for infrastructure improvements on both sides of the border to stop spills, the Navy’s involvement could give us more impetus to really get this done.
Military families face many challenges, including the difficulty in finding quality, affordable and available child care. Over 40 percent of service members have children and we have a tremendous backlog at Department of Defense (DOD) child care centers.
The DOD’s child care program supports 180,000 children in 230 facilities. However, in the Army alone, more than 5,000 children are waiting to get into a child care facility. That’s why I asked the DOD to look into the feasibility of expanding operating hours, contracting with private-sector child care services, and adding services for the National Guard and the Army Reserve.
Our region is home to over 200,000 veterans. A top issue I hear about from veterans is health care. My amendment, which the committee overwhelmingly approved, will help increase health care opportunities for disabled veterans.
Disabled veterans can lose access to TRICARE, the military’s health system, if they have to enroll in Medicare Part B, where premiums are nearly five times higher than TRICARE. This costs these disabled veterans up to $1,300 a year.
My Fair Access to Insurance for Retired (FAIR) Heroes Act will allow disabled veterans to choose their health care coverage through Medicare or TRICARE.
We need to know how many of our veterans find themselves in this situation. The DOD will report on the total number of these veterans to help give them the flexibility they deserve.
With readiness and our service members in mind, I put forth an amendment to increase funding for aircraft maintenance and readiness by $154 million. So far in 2018, 27 service members died in aviation accidents, including one in El Centro that killed four individuals.
To pay for this, we should redirect funding from nuclear weapons programs. These nuclear weapons programs are already set to receive an increase in resources; this $154 million would have been an increase on top of that raise. There are better uses for this funding, such as ensuring our service members are flying safe aircraft.
I’m disappointed that my Republican colleagues on the committee were unwilling to join me on providing the necessary resources to keep up maintenance of our military aircraft. Even though my amendment failed, we must not give up on guaranteeing safety for our service members.
The committee process is just the first step in passing an NDAA. It is on to the House next and then negotiations with the Senate. During this process, I will continue to fight for the provisions I was able to add to the bill and look out for our military personnel and their families.
— Congresswoman Davis represents central San Diego, including the Uptown communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge, Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.