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House panel says no to separate Spec Ops family programs

Jun. 14, 2013 - 01:04PM   |  
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The House Appropriations Committee has taken steps to block the U.S. Special Operations Command’s efforts to create separate programs for mental health, education and family resiliency.

In an era of tight budgets, the committee said, it’s important that “Major Force Program-11” funds be used for their original purpose — to provide funding for unique special operations needs.

In some cases, SOCOM asked for funds to establish new programs or activities that duplicate existing military programs. In others, the command is seeking to assume responsibility for activities that were previously, and more appropriately, funded by the services, according to the committee’s explanatory report accompanying its version fo the 2014 defense appropriations bill.

The bill next goes to the full House for approval.

Adm. William McRaven, SOCOM commander, has said in various forums this year that he is concerned about the health of the spec ops force and their families, which according to a 2011 command report was “frayed.”

Lawmakers said they understand the toll of the wars on all service members and their families, and appreciate McRaven’s focus on the psychological health and well-being of troops and their families.

But they stated that the mental health of all service members, including special operations personnel, is best addressed within the Defense Health Program to ensure the highest quality of care for all service members.

In response to defense officials’ request for $21.3 million for the psychological health and well-being of special operations forces and their families, the committee transferred that money to the Defense Health Program. The committee stated it supports expanding the services’ successful behavioral health programs to the special operations community.

Morale issues are involved, lawmakers said: “The committee believes it is important for the morale of all service members that there not be inequities among families exclusively based on a service member’s assignment.”

They did not completely deny funding for the family programs: They agreed to fund a $5 million limited pilot program to assess the feasibility and benefits of a separate program.

The appropriators also added $269 million to DoD’s request for SOCOM operation and maintenance base funding and recommended restoring funding for flying hours, training, equipment replacement, depot maintenance, and enduring operational expenses.

The committee also:

■Denied $25.3 million for the SOCOM Human Physical Performance Program, which would fund 331 contractors to provide physical training and sports conditioning, sports psychology, and sports nutrition services for special operations forces.

Earlier, the appropriators denied funding for three special operations “resiliency and human performance” centers associated with this program, citing concerns that the facilities might be redundant with existing medical facilities, clinics and gymnasiums offered on bases.

The committee expressed concern that this new program doesn’t use available research under the Navy’s Tactical Athlete Program, which is providing baseline research for each individual type of special forces operator in order to design physical training programs to meet those specialized needs.

■Denied $7.5 million for a new advanced education program for SOCOM, of which $3.6 million was to fund a National Defense University satellite master’s degree program for special operators. Lawmakers transferred that $3.6 million to the budget for National Defense University, and denied $3.9 million for new and expanded programs because of concerns about duplication and requirements.

SOCOM is working on formalizing its unique education requirements, and lawmakers ordered a report on these efforts.

■Denied $10 million to establish a Special Operations Command National Capital Region entity. The committee has requested, but has not received, a detailed plan for this entity, and noted that they are unclear about its purpose, function, and costs.

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