Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Senate Passes Harkin Provision Increasing Services for Guard and Reserve Families

Inspired by the Iowa National Guard’s 133rd Infantry Battalion, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, authored a measure that will increase support for families of those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The provision, first introduced as the “Coming Together for Guard and Reserve Families Act,” works to strengthen the family assistance program and ensures adequate resources for Guard and Reserve families throughout the deployment cycle. Harkin’s provision was part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the U.S. Senate passed Monday by a vote of 92-3.

Harkin was compelled to introduce the measure after President Bush decided to escalate the number of troops deployed in Iraq. Soon thereafter, more than 600 Iowa soldiers with the 133rd Infantry of the Iowa National Guard were notified that their combat tours in Anbar Province would be extended to 16 months – the longest deployment of an Iowa National Guard unit since World War II. Harkin received scores of anguished letters and calls from their family members, who were already struggling – largely in isolation – with the stress of having their loved ones deployed in one of Iraq’s most violent regions.

“The Iraq war has required our national guardsmen and their families to make tremendous sacrifices. As I saw so clearly in the letters I received from the families of Iowa’s 133rd Infantry, the stress these deployments wreak upon soldiers’ families can be devastating,” Harkin said in a press release. “The Senate passed a bill that honors our national guardsmen by ensuring their families have support they need during their loved one’s deployment. We owe it to our brave soldiers abroad to ensure that we do all that we can to support their families here at home.”

Included in the Senate’s NDAA bill are Harkin’s measures to expand and strengthen the existing family assistance program. These measures authorize the secretary of defense to take these steps:

--Strengthen the family assistance program to provide family support staff to work with National Guard and Reserve families throughout the deployment cycle.

--Provide follow-up and referral information with family members of National Guard and Reserves for mental-health and family-support issues six months post-deployment.

--Create outreach programs to target professionals in child care, education, mental health and health care for the special needs of children in military families. The program will also provide outreach to parents for supporting children during the deployment cycle.

Originally posted on the "Iowa Independent"

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