During its work Thursday on the 2014 defense policy bill, the House of Representatives took up and passed a grab bag of amendments that will, if they become law, affect the lives of service members and their families:
■The House voted to prevent the services from ever again shutting down the tuition assistance plan without congressional approval. Sponsored by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., the provision requires the services to spend the full amount provided by Congress, which would prevent a repeat of the tuition assistance shutdown earlier this year that defense and service officials reversed under pressure from lawmakers, service members and schools.
■The Defense Department would be required to provide free Internet service to troops serving in combat zones under an amendment sponsored by Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, that responds to complaints about the high cost of such access.
■DoD would have to provide the Veterans Affairs Department a certified and electronic copy of a service member’s military records within 90 days of discharge or release from active duty under an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz. This would apply to medical, personnel and unit records that might be needed to complete claims for service-connected disabilities.
■Service members notifying lenders, landlords and others that they are invoking their rights under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act because they are being deployed or reassigned would be able to provide as proof a certified letter from a commanding officer or records from the Defense Manpower Data Center in lieu of military orders, under an amendment from Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
■Commanders’ coins paid for with taxpayer money would have to be produced in the U.S. under an amendment from Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.
■To help troops calculate their active-duty service, DoD would be required to create an electronic tour calculator to help track their service. Sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., the calculator to track cumulative service is useful because reservists who earn military retired pay can receive their checks 90 days earlier than age 60 for every 90 days of active service.
■To recognize family sacrifice during a combat deployment, the House passed an amendment by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., requiring a pinning ceremony to be established where a special lapel pin is awarded to a spouse of someone who deployed 30 days or longer in a combat zone. Similar legislation has passed the House before but died in negotiations with the Senate.
■Vouchers given by the Army, Navy and Air Force to recruits to purchase athletic shoes soon may be restricted for use only on U.S.-made products. The House passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., to limit purchases as soon as DoD certifies there are at least two domestic manufacturers who can provide domestically produced shoes. The Marine Corps would not be affected, as it issues U.S.-made shoes to new recruits.
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