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Flag officers may have more oversight placed on them, the Defense Department may have to look into flexible maternity leave and credentials might be easier for service members.
Those are just a taste of some of the amendments regarding personnel issues that made it into the House version of the 2019 defense authorization last week.
The May 9 markup went into the wee hours of the morning, so Federal News Radio rounded up what you need to know about personnel issues that snuck into the NDAA before the House Armed Services Committee passed it 60-1.
Credentials have been a big issue for the military and Congress over the past few years. Lawmakers find it preposterous that service members can drive an 18-wheeler in the military, but then have to go through another licensing process to drive one in the civilian world.
The 2019 House version of the defense authorization bill tries to make it easier for service members to transition to civilian life with employment options.
The amendment from Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) makes a subtle change to the military’s credentialing program, but it has large repercussions.
Previously, the law required DoD to pay for credentialing if it related to military training. The provision gets rid of the military training qualification.
The amendment would allow service members to get professional accreditation, federal occupational licenses and state professional licenses as long as they translate into a civilian job outside the military.
Head injuries are getting more and more interest in the military. A recent study from the Center for a New American Security found shoulder mounted heavy weapons may be causing head trauma to troops during training.
“What we now know after doing a lot of research and based on a lot of science is some service members suffer from short term cognitive deficits from heavy weapons usage shot during training exercises,” said Lauren Fish, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security. “While these symptoms dissipate after about 96 hours, we don’t yet know the long term effects.”
The potential for brain injury from frequently used weapons like Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles is making the Defense Department rethink how it protects the brains of its troops.
There is currently no requirement to protect troops from blast waves even though primary blast pressure waves are mechanisms for brain injury.
Congress wants DoD to get moving on protecting service members’ brains.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) put an amendment in the bill requiring DoD to look into research gaps and links between brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is the neurodegenerative disorder made famous by some NFL players who are exposed to repeated mild traumatic head blows.
“There are still gaps in research between TBI and CTE and understanding the status and progress of CTE efforts within the military is of critical importance. Therefore, the Committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with Secretaries of the military departments, to provide a report on CTE research in the military to the committee,” the provision stated.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) also wants to know DoD is doing more for head injuries. His amendment requires the defense secretary to submit a plan to accelerate the development and deliver treatments of CTE, brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This report shall include a plan to accelerate innovation and delivery of treatments for TBI, CTE and PTSD to members of the Armed Forces and covered beneficiaries through improved coordination of behavioral health research and development efforts across the federal government, academic institutions and industry,” the amendment stated.
DoD already made some big changes to maternity and paternity leave. Under former Defense Secretary Ash Carter maternity leave expanded to up to 84 days.
However, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services’ most recent report didn’t think that was enough, especially since the military has trouble holding on to its mid-career women.
“There is concern across all of the branches at mid-career retention for women versus men. All of the services in varying career fields, at varying points but still within that mid-range of a 20 year career, they are experiencing challenges with women leaving at higher rates,” said Janet Wolfenbarger, chairwoman of the committee said.
Wolfenbarger said the committee found there need to be some tweaks to maternity leave. The committee recommended allowing flexible, noncontinuous parental leave by request.
“Although current maternity and parental leave policies are a strong step in the right direction, more can be done to tailor leave to families’ unique situations,” the report stated. The flexible option “is one potential way to support a service member after a child joins the member’s family, whether through birth or adoption. The committee believes allowing noncontinuous leave, when requested, could help service members better balance their unique family needs during critical junctures of their lives and, in turn, help support retention efforts.
Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) took the recommendation to heart. Her amendment requires DoD to examine the possibility of flexible maternity and paternity leave and report back by Dec. 1.
Flag officers and their staff have long been a point of contention. Last year, the defense authorization act required DoD to trim its general and flag officers by 25 percent.
Now Congress wants more oversight into the actions of flag officers. An amendment inserted by Rep. Speier requires DoD to submit a report on flag and general officers estimating the direct and indirect costs associated with their positions.
DoD must report direct compensation, personal money allowances, deferred compensation and health care costs, security detail costs, travel costs, per diem and costs for housing for aides.