Resident commissioner pushes for inclusion of veterans initiatives in defense bill
By John McPhaul
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón insisted on Tuesday that her initiatives in favor of veterans and the military be included in HR 4350, The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), for fiscal year 2022.
The measure passed the House of Representatives and the Senate is expected to pass its version of the legislation next week. This would result in a conference committee that would reconcile both proposals.
González Colón sent letters to Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman and minority leader, respectively, of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and to their counterparts in the House, Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), where she advocated for their amendments and bills that had already received bipartisan support and were included in the House version.
The first amendment will require the secretary of Defense to assign a nongovernmental research team of public health experts to study the impact of exposure to hazardous chemicals on the health of individuals residing near the so-called Superfund sites, a name given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to contaminated sites, related to the old Roosevelt Roads base in Ceiba, as well as in Culebra and Vieques.
The second amendment would prevent the removal of the LCM-8 landing and service platform of the National Guard in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico National Guard used those ships as part of the response to the Hurricane Maria emergency and for the past two years while Department of Public Transportation (DTOP) ships were being repaired. Recently, soldiers from the island National Guard delivered lifesaving supplies of food, water and other essentials from the platforms.
Although the ships are scheduled for replacement, the current transition plan has no deadline for the delivery of the new MSV (L) units. The amendment seeks to ensure that there will be no gap between the withdrawal of the LCM-8 and the acquisition of the MSV (L) units.
Another of the amendments filed by the resident commissioner would require that the secretary of the Army of the United States install a small modular firing range (Modular Small Arms Range) for the Army Reserve in Puerto Rico.
Currently, Reserve soldiers must travel to the National Guard firing range at Camp Santiago in Salinas to conduct annual firearms assessments. The new firing range would help reduce the administrative burden and concentrate efforts on the training and preparation of personnel.
González Colón also advocated for two of her bipartisan bills that are contained in the measure.