WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the House passed H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included amendments offered by Rep. Greg Stanton to improve the quality of life for our veterans.
“Our servicewomen and men deserve to feel safe and prepared while they defend our nation, and our veterans deserve access to the resources and support they’ve earned when they return home,” said Stanton. “I’m proud that my amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act earned unanimous support and will honor our veterans by ensuring they have access to critical benefits.”
The NDAA supports a strong national defense strategy with a smart, tough posture on Russia, continues collaboration with our allies, eliminates wasteful spending and promotes a more inclusive U.S. military.
Some specific measures the bill authorized:
- The most robust defense budget in history, at $733 billion, while cutting $17 billion in wasteful funding;
- A 3.1 percent military pay raise;
- A repeal of the “widow tax” to relieve surviving spouses of fallen servicemembers of undue financial burdens;
- Redirects $8 billion in wasteful programs to those that will get our troops and military families the equipment and support they need;
- A “safe-to-report” policy at military service academies, which allows sexual assault victims to report sexual assault without fear of discipline for minor collateral misconduct.
- Paid family leave.
The House passed the bill 220-197. The Senate passed its version of the NDAA (S. 1790) on June 27, 86-8. The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences between the two versions of the bill.
Supporting Noncitizen Servicemembers and Veterans on their Path to Citizenship
Stanton introduced an amendment with Rep. Ruben Gallego that would improve the mandatory counseling servicemembers receive when they transition out of the Armed Force and ensure they are provided additional information on the naturalization resources available to them.
“Throughout history, many legal permanent residents have demonstrated their commitment to the United States by volunteering to serve their adopted country in the Armed Forces,” Stanton said. “We need to take the appropriate steps to ensure those who volunteered to serve are not deported because they were unaware of the benefits available to them.”
Under current law, noncitizens who serve honorably in the Armed Forces are eligible to apply for expedited U.S. citizenship. However, there have been reports of veterans being deported to their countries of origin because they failed to apply for citizenship for a variety of reasons.
Stanton was inspired to take legislative action after talking to Steven Borden, director of veteran services at Arizona State University’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center, and hearing stories about how veterans transitioning from military to student life were impacted by current law.
The Department of Defense is required by law to inform noncitizen servicemembers of the resources available to them to apply for expedited naturalization. However, the discussion typically happens during the first few weeks after enlistment—during basic training—when the servicemember is still adjusting to military life. Stanton’s amendment would add a section to the counseling checklist servicemembers receive upon leaving active duty that allows them, or their spouse, to indicate that they would like to know more about applying for citizenship.
The measure provides additional accountability—to better ensure that the servicemember understands their citizenship status and that the military is effectively offering resources already available.
Stanton and Gallego’s amendment earned the support of the National Immigration Forum.
Improving Access to Important Physical Recreation for Wounded Warriors
Stanton’s second amendment would allow veterans enrolled in Wounded Warriors programs to continue enrollment in the Military Service Adaptive Sports Program for an additional year after separating from the U.S. Armed Forces.
“One way we can combat high suicide rates among our veterans is by helping them access physical, psychological and social rehabilitation programs during their first year of transition back into civilian life,” said Stanton.
The Military Adaptive Sports Program offers crucial reconditioning activities and competitive athletic opportunities to wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers that improves their quality of life. But currently, once a servicemember separates from the U.S. Armed Forces, they no longer qualify for their respective service’s Wounded Warrior Program. Stanton’s amendment would change this by extending a veteran’s eligibility for an additional year.
Video of Stanton’s remarks on the House floor in support of the amendments is available here: https://youtu.be/8p_rRCuyKSE