Donnelly Makes Strides on Military Suicide Prevention, National Guard Off-Ramp Issue in Defense Authorization Bill

Washington, D.C. – Senator Joe Donnelly released the following statement after the Senate Armed Services Committee passed the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act with bipartisan support, 23-3, last night.  Donnelly sponsored seven amendments that were included in the final bill and highlighted several additional aspects of the legislation of interest to Indiana. 

“With this bill, we make significant strides toward passing the Jacob Sexton Act, designed to better identify servicemembers struggling with mental health issues before it is too late, into law,” said Donnelly.  “I am pleased the Committee unanimously passed my amendment that would require a report from the Department of Defense on the feasibility of integrating more robust mental health screenings in servicemembers’ Periodic Health Assessments and soliciting a first-line supervisor’s input while protecting privacy.   We must get those who are struggling with mental health issues the help they need before they resort to taking their own life.

“The Committee also unanimously adopted my amendment detailing the Indiana National Guard experience in the cancellation of reserve component deployments.  The decision to off-ramp four National Guard units had wide-ranging impacts on over 1,000 Hoosier families, and it is not the way the Army should treat its soldiers.  My amendment added context to the requirement in the bill that the Secretary of Defense personally approve any decision to cancel the deployment of a reserve component unit within 180 days of its scheduled deployment date and to notify Congress of the decision.

“The Committee also considered amendments to better prevent military sexual assault, as the current system is clearly broken.  In speaking with survivors and learning more about the scope of this problem,  I concluded that only a significant, serious change to the status quo will lead to a truly ‘zero tolerance’ policy.  While I supported Senator Gillibrand’s proposal, which was replaced, I am pleased that the Committee passed a number of additional measures, including Chairman Levin’s proposal to better hold commanders accountable.  This is a start as we seek to enforce a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault in the Armed Forces.”

List of Donnelly Amendments Approved by the Committee:

  • Suicide prevention program report language: The bipartisan amendment, co-sponsored by Senators Wicker (R-MS) and Blumenthal (D-CT) requires a DOD assessment of new tools that could be implemented to better screen servicemembers for mental health needs and suicidal risk factors.  Senator Donnelly has introduced legislation, S. 810, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2013,  that would implement a pilot program to integrate annual mental health assessments into a servicemember’s health assessment and to solicit the input of a first-line supervisor while protecting servicemembers’ privacy.  The design of this pilot program would benefit from further evaluation from military health care professionals, and the report required by Senator Donnelly’s amendment directs that evaluation to be completed no later than February 14, 2014, in time for consideration of the FY 2015 NDAA. 
  • Off-ramp report language: Donnelly’s amendment details the experience of more than one thousand Indiana families affected by the off-ramping, or cancelled deployment, of four Indiana National Guard units, two of which were just six weeks away from deploying.  The Army replaced these units with active duty units and the decision had wide-ranging impacts on over 1,000 families’ health care, financial decision, educational plans, and housing. This is an addition to the underlying language that would require the Secretary of Defense to personally approve any decision to cancel the deployment of a reserve component unit within 180 days of its scheduled deployment date and to notify Congress of the decision.
  • Coal-to-liquid technologies: Donnelly’s amendment, passed with bipartisan support during the full committee debate, requires a detailed spending plan on funding in the FY13 DOD Appropriations Act for research to reduce or capture coal-to-liquid carbon emissions. It also encourages DOD to work with the Department of Energy on the feasibility of potential technologies that could enable coal-to-liquid fuels to meet the emissions requirements for bulk purchases and requires DOD to provide a proposal to the Senate Armed Services Committee for joint research.
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  • C-130H engine upgrades: This Donnelly-supported amendment would encourage the Air Force to consider upgrades to the C-130H aircraft to meet fuel economy goals in a manner reflective of the location of these aircraft among active, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve units.  Fuel economy upgrades, including the replacement of engines for the C-130 legacy aircraft, will reduce long-term costs and improve aircraft reliability.  The C-130 legacy aircraft are primarily a National Guard asset, so improving the reliability of this aircraft can enhance Guard missions around the country.
  • Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) War Reserve report language: Donnelly’s amendment directs the Defense Logistics Agency to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that ensures an adequate MRE inventory, maintains the appropriate levels of MRE war reserves, and provides for a surge capability to support unforeseen contingencies. 
  • Counter IED training: Donnelly’s amendment ensures that, despite the planned transition of the Joint Improvised Explosive Defeat Organization after 2014, counter-IED training would remain synchronized across the military departments and defense agencies.  This would ensure that the lessons we have learned in Afghanistan and Iraq are not lost.
  • Incinerator technologies for burn pits: Donnelly’s amendment requires that the report requested by the Committee on the potential health effects on personnel in the vicinity of burn pits in Afghanistan also includes an assessment of incinerator technologies that are available to the DOD for use in Afghanistan, including any such incinerator technologies that could also contribute to energy production, and any other waste-to-energy strategies.  Several companies are working to develop waste disposal technology that could both dispose of trash in forward operating bases in a safe manner while also supplying energy to the base. 

Additional Provisions of Interest to Indiana

  • BRAC: The bill would not authorize a new round of defense base closures and realignments in 2015.  It would require a report on the costs and savings associated with the 2005 round joint basing decisions.  The bill supports closing overseas bases before any bases in the Unites States would be closed.
  • Biofuels: The bill supports continued DOD investment in biofuels to diversify energy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
  • East Coast Ballistic Missile Defense: The bill would authorize deployment of a radar to defend the East Coast from missile threats from the Middle East, enhancing the capability of the current system to defend the entire United States.
  • MILCON: The bill would fund an Air National Guard MILCON project at $7.3 million at Hulman Regional Airport.