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Tsongas legislation to improve body armor and prevent sexual assault in the military passed by the House

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Legislation was included as part of National Defense Authorization Act

WASHINGTON, DC – May 28, 2010 — Today, the House of Representatives approved the bipartisan Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which authorizes funding and sets policy for the Department of Defense. The bill contains legislation authored by Fifth District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas to accelerate the development of lightweight body armor and new measures to better prevent and respond to incidents of sexual assault in the military. Tsongas, a member of the Armed Services Committee, released the following statement:

“The approval of the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act provides our men and women with the tools they need to protect our country and effectively find and hold accountable those who wish us harm. This bipartisan measure supports the ongoing efforts of our armed forces to seek out and destroy terrorist networks, keep up the fight against extremists, and sustain nuclear weapons non-proliferation efforts. These efforts have helped keep America safe and secure over the last two years, and this bill will continue to build on this record. Equally as important, the NDAA includes important protections for our servicemembers who we ask to carry out these difficult missions and sacrifice on our behalf.

“To that end, the NDAA includes language I authored to accelerate the development of lightweight body armor. Currently soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are outfitted with body armor that weighs up to 40 pounds. Combined with helmets, rifles, ammunition, backpacks, and other equipment, the load that they are carrying on a day-to-day basis exceeds 120 pounds. In 2009 alone, the Army reported 267,000 injuries. Even more alarming, we’ve even heard testimony from servicemembers who remove their body armor in combat because it is too heavy.

“The language that I worked to include in the NDAA will accelerate the Department of Defense’s efforts to reduce the weight of body armor and related protective equipment while maintaining an adequate level of protection for our soldiers by directing a federally funded research and development center to examine how the Department can improve the research, development, and procurement requirements of lightweight body armor.

“Beginning in 2004, questions from soldiers in the field, the American public and Massachusetts residents like Brian and Alma Hart drove Congress to pass legislation so that the DOD would bring improved armor plated HUMVEE’s and MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Prevention) vehicles to the field once the issue of roadside bombs became apparent in Iraq. My effort around improving an individual servicemember’s protective gear is motivated by this same urgency, and the language approved by the Armed Services Committee last night encourages the Department of Defense to put a similar, dedicated focus on this issue.

“The NDAA also includes a bill I introduced to expand legal rights for servicemembers who have been victims of sexual assault and improve training in the military related to the prevention of and response to this crime. Cosponsored by many others in the House, both Democrats and Republicans, our language strengthens the systems in place to prevent sexual assaults in the Armed Forces and provide support and guidance for victims that both report incidents as well as seek treatment. The bill will enable victims to access a military lawyer so that they understand their legal options. I was also pleased that a provision was included in the NDAA by Military Personnel Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Davis, which makes conversations with Victim Advocates confidential and unusable if the case goes to court, as they typically are for psychiatrists and social workers in the civilian world.

“Additionally, our language standardizes the training of servicemembers, commanding officers, Victim Advocates, and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators around prevention and response of sexual assault. It requires that all servicemembers are trained on how to prevent and respond to this crime as they move up in the military structure, and prohibits DOD contractors from fulfilling the Victim Advocate and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator roles.

“Finally, in addition to the many steps that NDAA takes to protect our national security, it also strengthens our military’s readiness by ending its ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. Since the ban first became law, thousands of highly skilled servicemembers have suffered discrimination while thousands more have been discouraged from even considering the military. It is astonishing to me that we have a law that kicks highly skilled, capable and dedicated Americans out of the military at a time when we are sending servicemembers on multiple deployments to fight two wars; and it is shocking to me that we would let a social agenda prevent the best and brightest from honorably serving in the military. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ undermines our military readiness and unit cohesion at a time when a strong fighting force is needed now more than ever. Both the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have pledged their support to its repeal.

“While I believe the ban should be ended as quickly as possible, I support the approach taken by the House today which allows a comprehensive review of the policy to be completed while making it clear that this discrimination will come to an end. Our servicemen and women are first and foremost Americans, protecting freedom throughout the world. We cannot then, with any true moral standing, discriminate against distinguished and courageous members of our own military for the simple act of living an authentic life.

“I would like to thank the members of the Committee including Chairman Ike Skelton, Ranking Member Buck McKeon, Congressman Adam Smith, Congresswoman Susan Davis, and Congressman Michael Turner for their support of the specific language and programs I worked to include in the NDAA and hope that the Senate will move forward on this legislation quickly.”

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