Friday, July 13, 2007

Republicans Defeat Troop Readiness Amendment

A measure that would improve military readiness and require periods of down time for National Guard and reservists returning from Iraq and Afghanistan before redeploying them was defeated Wednesday by a Senate Republican filibuster. At the very minimum, the proposed down-time requirements would be equal to the time of served during previous deployment. Currently, there are no mandated restrictions set by the Department of Defense.

The amendment, S. AMDT. 2011, was introduced by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which is currently being debated in both chambers of Congress. The vote was 56-41 to end debate on Webb’s amendment, with 60 votes needed to move to a full up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

After the filibuster succeeded, Webb, a Vietnam War veteran, shared his disappointment on the Senate floor with Republican colleagues: “Today the Republicans decided to filibuster an amendment that goes straight to the well-being of our troops. I deeply regret this move. I would remind my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle that the American people are watching us today. They expect us to take the sort of positive action that might stabilize the operational environment in which are troops are being sent again and again.”

Webb’s amendment was bound to meet resistance from the GOP rank and file and faced a President Bush veto, who vetoed the 2007 war emergency bill on similar grounds that Congress should not etch into law deployment and down times – which the Bush administration says would curtail commanders’ flexibility on the battlefield. Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley echoed the administration’s steadfast policy in a statement to the Iowa Independent: “The last thing politicians in Washington should do is tie the hands of our commanders on the ground by dictating troop rotations."

"Our troops have been put under tremendous stress and have been asked to do a great deal during the War on Terrorism. The soldiers and their families have answered the call of duty time and time again,” said Grassley, a Republican. “Recently, the Secretary of Defense announced new troop deployment policies as well as increases to the size of the active duty military. This should help relieve the stress on our current forces, and the reserve forces in particular, while maintaining the flexibility and capability to respond to national security needs.”

Praise for the Bush administration’s troop deployment policies was less forthcoming on the other side of the aisle in Iowa. “It is simply unacceptable that our troops’ time at home has often been cut short, depriving them of the time they need to recover from combat, complete additional training and spend precious time with their families,” said Sen. Tom Harkin in a press release. “This systematic abuse of redeploying our troops with little down time has placed enormous stress on our troops and their families, and has brought our Army to its breaking point. Having an established amount of time between deployments is crucial to protecting our troops’ mental and physical well-being and providing some stability and predictability for military families.”

Findings from a Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health in June support Harkin’s claim:

The challenges are enormous and the consequences of non-performance are
significant. Data from the Post-Deployment Health Re-Assessment, which is
administered to service members 90 to 120 days after returning from deployment,
indicate that 38 percent of Soldiers and 31 percent of Marines report
psychological symptoms. Among members of the National Guard, the figure rises to
49 percent (U.S. Air Force, 2007; U.S. Army, 2007; U.S. Navy, 2007). Further,
psychological concerns are significantly higher among those with repeated
deployments, a rapidly growing cohort. Psychological concerns among family
members of deployed and returning Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring
Freedom veterans, while yet to be fully quantified, are also an issue of
concern. Hundreds of thousands of children have experienced the deployment of a

Regarding the mental health issues facing veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health experts have reached a consensus that matters will only worsen unless proactive measures are taken. Webb’s amendment was one of these measures.

Webb, a first-year senator, spoke of frustrations with the politicizing of his legislative action: “Americans are tired of the posturing that is giving Congress such a bad reputation. They are tired of the procedural strategies designed to protect politicians from accountability, and to protect this Administration from judgment. They are looking for concrete actions that will protect the well-being of our men and women in uniform.”

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