07.31.16

Proposal to reduce basic housing allowance is wrong

Today, I'm in Fayetteville to attend the Defense Trade Show. North Carolina is a critically important military hub, with nearly a million residents who have either served or are active duty. The Airborne and Special Operations Forces who call Fort Bragg home have consistently been called upon to lead the fight against America's enemies and soon the 18th Airborne Corps headquarters will deploy to lead Operation Inherent Resolve and the fight against the Islamic State.

The men and women of our military, as well as their families, make great sacrifices to serve our country. Our government must recognize these sacrifices and strive to live up to the promises made to our service members, which is why I am committed to ensuring that any changes to law that would impact the quality of life of our service members are thoughtfully and thoroughly considered.

When some in Congress proposed changes to the rules that govern the basic allowance for housing, or BAH, I looked at the proposed change and recognized the significant hardship that it would cause many military families, especially dual-military families. This is why I have joined with 17 other senators in asking the Senate Armed Services Committee to remove these proposed changes from the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

As reported in the Military Times, some members of the military could see their Basic Housing Assistance cut in half. This proposal would hurt women service members in greater proportion than their male counterparts because 20percent of women on active duty are in dual-military households, versus only 3 percent of men. Additionally, 67 percent of dual-military households are enlisted and, therefore, this change would disproportionately harm those who can least afford it. A lopsided rule like this one has no place in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Both Democrat and Republican members of Congress agree that this provision is bad policy. America has been at war for almost 15 years now and few people have sacrificed more over this period than those service members and their families in dual-military households. Depriving a service member of an earned benefit just because they are married to another service member is simply wrong. Over the next two months, we will continue the fight to fix this. As we mentioned in our letter to Congressional leaders, "Congress cannot stand behind provisions that directly penalize dual-military families, women and our most junior members."

Maintaining the best military in the world means that we consider how to attract and retain our Active, Guard and Reserve service members. I have advocated for our troops through supporting the military budget as well as working on specific programs like maintaining commissaries for military families, modernization projects for bases and background checks for employees of military daycare centers.

On veterans' issues, I have pushed our government for accountability for the survivors of Camp Lejeune's contaminated water and Agent Orange exposure, and I have advocated for better services such as expanding mental health care and improving the Veterans Choice program so that veterans do not have to wait for medical care.

Just this past month, the Senate and House passed my legislation to expand dental coverage for vets across the country, including North Carolina.

When bad laws come my way, you can expect me to call it like I see it, as is the case with this proposal to dock housing allowances. When there is a viable way to improve our military, I've worked across the aisle to make a proposal get across the finish line and to the president's desk.

Our military cannot continue to be the best in the world unless we examine these proposed laws and carefully consider the consequences on our troops and their families. This time, I know my colleagues and I are on the right track by opposing this change.

This op-ed was published by the Fayetteville Observer.