Washington, DC -- U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06) today applauded the passage of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contained a number of provisions proposed by Coffman.
U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06) today applauded the passage of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contained a number of provisions proposed by Coffman.
In particular, Coffman’s Fairness for Veterans Act was added to the final version of NDAA. H.R. 4683, the Fairness for Veterans Act, is a measure Coffman introduced in March as part of his set of initiatives to provide veterans with better access to mental health services.
“As a retired Marine and a combat veteran myself, I know how stressful combat deployments are and the impact they can often have years after returning to civilian life," Coffman said. "Many of our soldiers develop PTSD while deployed in a combat zone and then get kicked out of the military for minor behavioral problems directly linked to their combat-related PTSD. Today’s vote on NDAA is a critical step in ensuring that we take care of those who have served our nation and now need our nation to help them."
Coffman developed the Fairness for Veterans Act to address a very disturbing trend. Since 2009, more than 20,000 service members with medical histories indicating they may have PTSD have been improperly discharged from the U.S. Army with other- than-honorable discharges, oftentimes for minor misconduct.
In 2009, at the height of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army had about 555,000 soldiers. Since then, the Army has been cut back to an active duty force of 485,000. From these figures, it appears that the Army has used these minor misconduct violations an excuse to quickly discard these combat veterans get its active duty numbers down. This is particularly troublesome because veterans with other-than-honorable discharges are often ineligible for a broad range of healthcare and other benefits from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, including critical mental healthcare services.
Coffman and U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), in a bipartisan, bicameral effort supported by more than 40 Veterans Service Organizations, worked side-by-side to include Fairness for Veterans language in FY17 NDAA, which creates a presumption in favor of a combat veteran with a diagnosis of PTSD during the post-discharge appeals process.
“Our nation’s heroes who honorably served our country should not lose access to the benefits they’ve earned because they are suffering the invisible wounds of war,” said Senator Peters, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I am pleased the House approved the Fairness for Veterans amendment with widespread bipartisan support, and I will be working to ensure swift passage in the Senate so veterans are given the fairness they deserve when petitioning for an upgraded discharge status.
“We are heartened to learn that the ‘Fairness for Veterans’ provision has been included in the conferenced version of the NDAA,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America. “This is one small step towards the much-needed reforms of the Department of Defense’s Discharge Review Boards. VVA is especially thankful to Congressman Mike Coffman for his support of this common-sense legislation which will go a long way in protecting our country’s most vulnerable veterans. For that, we are exceedingly grateful.”
In addition to Fairness for Veterans, Coffman’s successful NDAA initiatives include:
- Increasing Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) funding by nearly $15 million so military bases can prevent encroachment. As property around a base is developed, it can limit or restrict military training, testing, and operations. Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District is currently competing for REPI funds to expand the buffer areas surrounding it.
- Reforms that streamline and simplify the current processes used in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Small Business Administration (SBA) to certify veteran-owned small businesses (VOSB) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSB). The current processes vary between the VA and SBA and this reform reforms, streamlines, and simplifies the current process VA and SBA use to certify these businesses as eligible.
A Marine Corps combat veteran, Coffman serves on the House Armed Services Committee and House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, where he is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations