IAVA Praises Passage of Bipartisan Backed NDAA

January 5, 2021 by Sara Wilkerson
Jeremy Butler

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting 9/11 veterans, recently praised the 116th Congress for backing the National Defense Authorization Act. The passage of the NDAA comes after Congress recently overrode President Trump’s veto of the legislative package last month. 

Aside from funding essential defense operations into the new fiscal year, the final NDAA will provide key legislative support in a number of areas including: 

  • Funding for service members and veterans who have been exposed to burn pits and other toxic exposures 
  • Critical legislative measures that will address the mental health care gaps for National Guard and Reserve members 
  • Broad reforms for military families in areas of military housing, child and mental health support, and more 

“This year’s NDAA is incredibly important as it includes numerous life saving provisions, from increased mental health care for National Guard and Reservists, to those exposed to burn pits and other toxic exposures,” said IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler in a public statement. 

Butler continued, “IAVA thanks all of the members of Congress that worked tirelessly to pass a truly bipartisan Defense bill that will not only continue to fund our military through 2021, but also provide much needed protections for servicemembers and veterans.” 

Included within the NDAA is the Pandemic Care for Burn Pits Exposure Act, legislation that Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and others worked closely with IAVA to bring to Congress since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to IAVA, the legislation will, “provide health assessments of veterans diagnosed with a pandemic disease that have experienced toxic exposures, including burn pits.” 

In addition to the health assessments, the NDAA also allows the Department of Defense to report on studies that have been conducted regarding the health effects of burn pit exposure. The provision for DoD study reports was championed by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif.

“Many of our service members and veterans are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic, especially those who were stationed near burn pits,” Klobuchar said of the legislation. 

“As a result of being exposed to toxic substances from burn pits during their military service, many suffer from significant respiratory illnesses, and now they may face heightened health risks during the pandemic due to previous toxic exposure. 

“This legislation would help to ensure that they receive the care they need,” stated Klobuchar. 

“After bravely serving our nation, too many Veterans come home with respiratory and neurological illnesses due to burn pit exposure and right now, that is making them more vulnerable to the worst cases of coronavirus,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a combat veteran and cosponsor of the bill.

Duckworth continued, “As our nation continues to respond to this public health crisis, it’s our duty to make sure Veterans can get the care they need when they return home with health conditions that put them at heightened risk. 

“I’m proud to join Senator Klobuchar in helping to introduce this bipartisan legislation to do that,” added Duckworth. 

In an effort to address gaps to mental health services provided to National Guard and Reservist members, the NDAA includes the bipartisan backed Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act, legislation championed by Senator Jon Tester. D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The CARE for Reservists Act will ensure that all Guardsmen and Reservists who need mental health services can access them, regardless of whether they have deployed. 

“I’m thrilled that we’re one step closer to delivering consistent mental health care to Guardsmen and Reservists with the inclusion of my bill in the annual must-pass defense package,” said Tester in a public statement

“The truth is that my CARE for Reservists Act will go far in treating unseen wounds of war by expanding mental health options for members of the Guard and Reserves, particularly those in rural areas with limited access to care. 

“And it’ll provide counseling, employment training, and other critical services to help folks return to civilian life,” added Tester. 

“Congratulations to Senators Tester and Moran for getting this legislation across the finish line,” said Butler of the legislation. “Sometimes we overuse the word ‘critical’ in describing the importance of certain efforts, but this legislation truly fits that definition. 

“Many National Guardsmen and Reservists are ineligible for mental health care because they have never deployed or they are not in their deployment window. With the worsening veterans suicide crisis, we cannot allow any servicemembers to fall through the cracks. 

“This legislation fills those gaps,” concluded Butler. 

Aside from supporting members, the NDAA legislation will also support their families on multiple fronts. 

According to the IAVA, key reforms for military families will address issues such as the childcare shortage and provide support for families with special needs children. Additionally, reforms will be made to improve military housing and provide mental health care for military family members and retirees. 

To find out more about the full extent of the NDAA, the text of the bill can be found online

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