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Senate Begins Debating FY2009 Defense Authorization; Report Details Provisions Affecting Women Soldiers, Military Families

On September 8, the Senate began debating the FY2009 Defense Authorization bill (S. 3001) after approving a cloture motion, 83-0. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the measure on April 30 (seeThe Source, 5/2/08); the House approved its version of the measure on May 22 (see The Source, 5/23/08).

Sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the measure would authorize $612.5 billion for national defense in FY2009. This amount includes $542.5 billion for the Departments of Defense and Energy and $70 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Report Language

The committee “commends the secretary of Defense and the secretaries of the military departments for the increased priority for family support programs presented in testimony in review of the president’s budget request for FY2009. In particular, the Army would devote $1.5 billion for family support programs in FY2009, with the goal of better meeting family needs for child care, youth programs, and community recreation. The committee remains concerned about the adequacy of support for family members of the National Guard and Reserve, especially for the families of the nearly 500,000 members who have deployed.”

According to the report, “the committee notes that for FY2009, as in previous years, the department continues to rely on supplemental appropriations for a significant portion of the funding of critical family support programs, including counseling and child care. The committee reiterates its belief that family support programs are enduring requirements for the all-volunteer force, and its expectation that family support programs will be fully integrated into the department’s annual budget process and future-years’ defense plan.”

The committee report states, “Over the last several months, a number of contractor employees who were victims of rape or sexual assault in Iraq have publicly alleged that they received little or no help from either contractor or government officials. Several of these women testified before congressional committees that they were ‘ignored or disciplined’ by company officials to whom they reported the alleged assaults, and that they were actively discouraged from reporting anything to the government. In one case, a woman working for a defense contractor reported that she was gang-raped by a co-worker and a soldier at a U.S. base in Iraq. Her supervisors, she testified, tried to discourage her from reporting the assault. Rather than supporting her, the woman’s employer submitted her to extensive questioning, and then required her to sign an inaccurate statement of facts before allowing her to move between bases. In another case, a woman working in Iraq for the same contractor reported that she was sexually assaulted by a male co-worker who was never charged.”

The report continues, “The provision [to amend the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2008 (P.L. 110-181) to require that alleged crimes by, or against, employees in Iraq and Afghanistan are reported to appropriate authorities and that contractor employees receive appropriate victim and witness services] recommended by the committee is intended to ensure that contractor employees who are the victims of similar assaults in the future are not deprived of their legal rights, and receive the help that they need and the investigative assistance that they deserve.”

The committee would require that the Department of Defense (DoD) “conduct a review of policies concerning deferment from deployment of service members following the birth of a child. The review shall include an assessment of the impact of service policies on military readiness, including recruitment and retention of female service members, and the desirability of a uniform policy for all military services.” The DoD would be required to consult with public and private sector experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “to ensure that Department of Defense assignment policies for female service members following childbirth are informed by the most current scientific and clinical expertise regarding the well-being of new mothers and infants.” The DoD would be required to report on its finding to the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services by May 1, 2009.

The committee recommends that the secretary of Defense authorize “travel expenses for a dependent of a service member assigned to a very remote location outside the continental United States who requires or elects anesthesia services for childbirth to a location in the United States.”

The committee also recommends “up to 21 days of leave for a male service member whose spouse gives birth to a child. The leave would be in addition to any other leave to which the service member is entitled.”

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