On December 12, the House approved, 370-49, the conference report for the FY2008 Defense authorization bill (H.R. 1585); the Senate approved, 90-3, the bill on December 14. The House approved the measure on May 17 (see The Source, 5/18/07); the Senate approved it on October 1 (see The Source, 10/5/07).
H.R. 1585 would authorize $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the national security programs at the Department of Energy for FY2008, and an additional $189.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for FY2008.
The bill would authorize a 3.5 percent basic pay increase for uniformed service members. The bill would extend the prohibition on fee increases for the military health care program, TRICARE, and the TRICARE pharmacy program established in last year’s defense authorization act (P.L. 109-364).
H.R. 1585 would allow servicemembers to designate up to 50 percent of their death benefit to someone other than a spouse or child, and would authorize a monthly payment of $40 for surviving spouses who are not receiving the full amount of their Survivor Benefit Plan due to the concurrent receipt of benefits under the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefit.
The bill would allow the Office of Reintegration Programs to develop programs for servicemembers and their families, including marriage counseling, services for children, substance abuse awareness and treatment, mental health awareness and treatment, financial counseling, and domestic violence awareness and prevention.
It also would require the secretary of Defense to conduct a review of “gender- and ethnic group-specific mental health treatment and services for members of the armed forces; and the efficacy and adequacy of existing gender- and ethnic group-specific mental health treatment programs and services for members of the armed forces.” The secretary would be required to report his findings to the “appropriate committees of Congress” 90 days after enactment. The secretary further would be required to develop a “comprehensive policy to address the treatment and care needs of female members of the Armed Forces and veterans who experience mental health problems and conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder” 120 days after enactment.
The legislation would require “the secretary of Defense and the secretary of Veterans Affairs to take into account and fully address any unique specific needs of women members of the armed forces and women veterans in developing and implementing a comprehensive policy on care, management, and transition of members of the armed forces with serious injuries or illnesses.”
The bill also would extend coverage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (P.L. 103-3) to caretakers of wounded servicemembers. It would allow a soldier’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin (defined as the “nearest blood relative”) to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for an injured servicemember. Under the bill, an employee could elect, or an employer could require the employee, to substitute accrued paid vacation leave, personal leave, family leave, or medical or sick leave for all or any part of the 26 weeks.
The Senate-passed version of the bill had included the provisions of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 1105) (see The Source, 9/28/07) but they were removed during conference with the House.
The conferees “direct the secretary of Defense to conduct a review, in consultation with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the combatant commanders, of the quality of life challenges confronted by military families at remote overseas locations. The review should include a review of current policies and procedures regarding the delivery of obstetrical care provided to medical beneficiaries. In particular, the secretary should compare and contrast the current policy of transporting pregnant women to centrally located government medical facilities with a policy of providing women the opportunity to return to the United States to give birth. The secretary should report the findings and recommendations to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives not later than June 30, 2008.”