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Defense Authorization Bill Clears House

On May 26, the House passed, 322-96, the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1540). The House Armed Services Committee approved the legislation on May 12 (see The Source, 5/13/11).

According to the committee report, the measure would provide $690.056 billion in FY2012 for base Department of Defense (DoD) programs and overseas contingency operations (OCO) in Afghanistan and Iraq (p. 6). This amount is $1.095 billion over President Obama’s FY2012 request and includes $142.164 billion for military personnel (p. 9), $31.963 billion for the Defense Health Program (p. 10), and $1.694 billion for family housing (p. 11).

Among other provisions, H.R. 1540 would require that a full time sexual assault response coordinator and victim advocate be assigned to each brigade (or equivalent unit level of the armed forces). The secretary of Defense also would be required to establish a certification program for sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates (p. 144). The bill would require the secretaries of each military department to provide sexual assault training and education at each level of professional military education and for civilian employees. The bill also would authorize $45 million for defense-wide sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates, prevention training, and education (p. 145).

Members of the armed forces and dependents of service members who live on or near a military facility who are victims of sexual assault would be entitled to military legal assistance by counsel who is certified as competent by a qualified sexual assault victim advocate (p. 145). The bill would establish a confidentiality privilege in military tribunals between victims and sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates, and DoD SAFE Help line personnel (p. 144).

The bill would require the secretary of each military department to expedite consideration and approval of a victim’s application for a permanent change of station or unit transfer (p. 145). H.R. 1540 also would require the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to be a general/flag officer or a civilian in the Senior Executive Service (p. 144). The bill also contains a provision that would require the DoD to maintain records relating to sexual assault for at least 100 years; victims of such assaults would have permanent access to the records (p. 145).

The legislation would increase the number of days of leave granted to a service member following the adoption of a child from 21 to 42 days. In instances of dual military couples, the service member who is not the primary caregiver would be awarded 10 days of leave. The changes would make leave available for adoption the same as that available for the birth of a child (p. 136).

The bill would require courts to restore pre-deployment child custody arrangements in instances where a temporary custody order is issued solely on the basis of a service member’s deployment or anticipation of deployment, unless the court finds that doing so would not be in the best interest of the child. Courts would be prohibited from using a service member’s deployment when determining the best interest of the child (p. 143).

According to the report, the secretary of Defense would be required to conduct a “comprehensive review on the availability, efficacy, and adequacy of health care services for female members of the armed forces.” The report would be due to Congress by March 31, 2012 (p. 160).

The report also addresses concerns raised by women service members regarding body armor: “The committee believes there is merit in conducting an evaluation as to whether there is an operational need to tailor interceptor body armor (IBA) systems fielded to service women specifically for the physical requirements of women” (p. 49).

During consideration of the bill, the House adopted, by voice vote, a series of en bloc amendments that included the following amendments:

  • An amendment by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) to require DoD’s medical research program to apply RNA technology to the treatment of breast and prostate cancer, infectious diseases, and rare diseases;
  • An amendment by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) to set aside 50 percent of the funds for the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund to ensure that Afghan women are an integral part of the reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban; and
  • An amendment by Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA) to require DoD and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to conduct a joint study of the rate of breast cancer among women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House rejected, 191-232, an amendment by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to require the DoD to conduct an outreach program to benefit minority and women-owned businesses prior to awarding defense contracts to private contractors.

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