STANDING BY OUR TROOPS AND MILITARY FAMILIES
BUILDING A STRONGER MILITARY, ENACTING A MILITARY FAMILY BILL OF RIGHTS
Monday, February 14, 2005
John Kerry’s Plan: Increase the Size of the Military and Stand By Military Families This week, Senator Kerry will introduce legislation to expand the Army and Marine Corps and help meet the needs of America’s Military families.
Expanding the Active Duty Army and Marine Corps are essential first steps in strengthening our military, relieving the stress on the force, preventing the emergence of a “hollow” military and keeping America strong. Senator Kerry’s legislation will grow the Army by 30,000 and the Marine Corps by 10,000. Given recruitment and training times, it will take approximately two years for these new troops to be ready to deploy.
The American military must also be reshaped to meet today’s threat environment. The Pentagon should ensure the new troops are trained to perform stability operations, such as civil affairs, psychological operations and military police.
The U.S. military is too small for our national security needs. Current deployments have stretched the American military to its breaking point. Active duty troops are facing lengthy and repeated tours. Of the National Guard’s 15 most combat-ready brigades, 14 are either in Iraq, recently returned or on alert to deploy in the next year. The Chief of the Army Reserve recently warned that his force was “rapidly degenerating into a ‘broken force.’”
Our military must have the strength and resources to meet any challenge, now and in the future. Challenges to America’s security do not start and stop with Iraq. The war in Iraq taught us that a lightening fast, information age military can drive to Baghdad in three weeks, but it also reminded us that there is no technological substitute for boots on the ground. Our ongoing commitments in Iraq, the nature of the War on Terror and the need to be ready for any future challenges mandate larger ground forces, equipped and trained for any mission. Our armed forces must be ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges, wherever and whenever they occur.
Keeping America’s military strong also means keeping faith with America’s Military Families. About half of today’s military is married. Good commanders know that even if you recruit an individual soldier, you retain a family. Providing for America’s military families isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a smart investment in American military strength.
During the 2004 campaign, Senator Kerry proposed a Military Family Bill of Rights. Several of those provisions, including protecting imminent danger pay and family separation allowances, were acted on by Congress last year. This year, Senator Kerry will continue to fight for the unfinished portions of that agenda, introducing an updated Military Family Bill of Rights to improve the way our government treats military families. The proposal focuses on fundamental needs like health care, housing and financial security when a loved-one is killed or injured.
The Kerry plan will:
• Allow Americans to donate to military relief charities on their income tax forms, similar to the current earmark that can be made to public financing of elections; • Allow surviving widows and children to remain in military housing for up to 365 days, rather than the current 180 days; • Increase the death benefit to the families of troops who die in action to $250,000. Doing so, when combined with the $250,000 insurance policy already carried by service members brings total compensation to $500,000; • Allow penalty-free withdrawals from Individual Retirement Accounts for expenses associated with deployments; • Extend TRICARE eligibility to all members of the National Guard and Reserves, whether mobilized or not; • Provide COBRA eligibility to Reservists who prefer to keep their families covered with private health insurance; • Expand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs; • Establish economic injury disaster grants for small businesses that employ Reservists; • Empower the Small Business Administration to help Reservist-owned small businesses prepare for potential mobilizations; and • Create Veteran Entrepreneurship Loans to help veterans start new businesses.
Cost of the Legislation
The total cost of the Kerry plan would be approximately $6.5 to $8 billion. Taken separately, raising the armed forces by 40,000 personnel will cost between $4.5 and $5 billion per year, and the Military Family Bill of Rights would be between $2 and $3 billion per year.
By comparison, the United States is currently spending about $5 billion a month on military operations and reconstruction in Iraq.