Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, announced her FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) wins that will help improve the quality of life of service members and their families. Gillibrand is a tireless advocate for New York’s active-duty service members and her subcommittee oversees matters relating to active and reserve military personnel, including compensation, benefits, health care, education, child care, and more. During this year’s NDAA negotiations, Gillibrand championed several provisions to improve and expand military parental leave, compensation, TRICARE benefits, mental health services, child care, basic needs allowance, PFAS remediation, and assessments of autism therapy.
“The strength of our armed services relies on the health and well-being of our service members and their families. As chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, I work every day to advocate for the health, safety, and morale of our men and women in uniform,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am proud of the advances we delivered in this year’s NDAA, including better mental health and health care benefits, an across-the-board 2.7% increase in base pay for all military personnel, and funding to improve the water supply right here at Fort Drum. Our service members risk their lives to keep us safe and I will remain relentless in our fight to ensure the military operates in a manner worthy of their dedication.”
Below is a description of Senator Gillibrand’s personnel provisions for service members and their families included in the FY22 NDAA:
Pay Raise: This provision provides a 2.7% increase to base pay for all service members and the DoD workforce. This will increase a Sergeant’s basic pay (excluding housing allowance and other benefits) from $2,844 to $2,920 and a Captain’s basic pay from $6,023 to $6,186.
Parental Leave: This amendment authorizes up to 12 weeks of parental leave for all service members, both primary and secondary caregivers, in the case of birth, adoption, or long-term foster placement of a child. Service members can also now defer their parental leave to a later year if occupied with a professional circumstance that is deemed reasonable and appropriate. This provision will allow service members to care for their families and take time for themselves during a critical adjustment period and will help them achieve long-term success, both professionally and personally.
Senator Gillibrand supported Senator Duckworth (D-IL) in her fight to ensure that all service members are able to access paid parental leave that will lead to more stable, healthy military families and, ultimately, better retention, recruitment, and readiness. Today, many service members only receive 3 weeks or less of parental leave, and foster parents do not receive any form of paid parental leave. Increasing access to parental leave is shown to have long-term positive effects on the strength of both parent-child and spousal relationships.
Child Care: Senator Gillibrand worked with Senator Duckworth to improve the quality and availability of child care services for service members and their families. Their provisions in the final NDAA will help increase the capacity and availability of quality child care for service members and their dependents, and meet the real-life needs of military families. Their provisions accomplish the following:
- Encourage public-private partnerships to solve child care challenges: The senators encourage military services to seek out creative solutions to solve child care availability challenges, including exploring options to create public-private partnerships.
- Expand in-home child care program: This year’s NDAA authorizes the Secretary of Defense to expand the number of locations participating in the existing in-home child care pilot program, authorized by Sec. 589(b) of the FY21 NDAA, due to its success. The pilot program is testing the use of fee assistance programs for in-home child care providers, like nannies, and is currently limited to five locations: San Diego, San Antonio, Hawaii, Norfolk and the National Capital Region.
- Inspect all military child care centers: This year’s NDAA also directs the Department of Defense to inspect all military child care centers within one year and conduct a study into the current poor and failing conditions of military child care centers. The study will help take steps to address hazards like lead, asbestos and mold.
Health Care and Mental Health Services: The bill authorizes multiple improvements to health care benefits and TRICARE coverage, including:
1. Coverage of preconception and prenatal carrier screening tests: This provision establishes coverage of preconception and prenatal carrier screening tests for certain medical conditions under the TRICARE program, including cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, Fragile X Syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, Hemoglobinopathies, conditions linked with Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and more.
2. TRICARE co-pays: This provision directs the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the usage of outpatient services following the increase of TRICARE co-pays for Group A beneficiaries. In the last few years, increased TRICARE co-pays have resulted in higher costs for service members seeking mental health care and speech, physical, and occupational therapy, forcing many to halt treatment. The report will analyze the percentage of beneficiaries who stopped receiving services between 2016-2020 and service differences between TRICARE Prime and Select.
3. Autism CARES: Gillibrand’s provision on Autism CARES compels the Secretary of Defense to work with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to analyze data on treatment and applied behavior analysis (ABA) effectiveness.
With the rate of military and veteran suicide outpacing military operation deaths four to one, Senator Gillibrand has been fighting for improved access to mental health care for service members. Her provisions in this year’s NDAA include:
1. Pilot Program for Mental Health Scheduling: This provision requires the DoD to develop a pilot program that will ensure beneficiaries receive direct assistance identifying appropriate mental health providers within the direct care system or TRICARE network when referred for mental health care services. This provision was established following a 2020 DoD IG report revealing barriers that have led to delays, and in some cases, the inability to receive coverage.
2. Independent Review of Suicide Prevention and Response: This provision mandates the Secretary of Defense to establish an independent suicide prevention and response review committee at military installations within 90 days of the NDAA’s final passage.
3. Brandon Act: Following her push earlier this year, Gillibrand secured key provisions of the Brandon Act, named in Brandon Caserta’s honor, which would expand access to mental health care services for active-duty military personnel. Namely, these provisions will allow services members to access confidential mental health evaluation referrals without fear of retaliation.
PFAS Remediation & Treatment at U.S. Military Installations: Gillibrand successfully pushed to include critical per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) provisions that will expedite the testing, cleanup, and remediation of PFAS at some of the most contaminated U.S. military installations and state-owned National Guard facilities. Through her advocacy, Gillibrand helped add $517 million authorized above President Biden’s budget request for clean-up of military communities impacted by PFAS contamination. The FY22 NDAA also includes three provisions modeled after Gillibrand’s Filthy Fifty Act, including:
1. A provision to establish a two-year deadline for the DoD to complete testing for PFAS at all currently identified military installations and National Guard facilities.
2. A provision that requires the DoD to submit a report to Congress with the status of clean-up efforts to remediate PFAS at 50 priority installations, matching those listed in the Filthy Fifty Act, that are among the most contaminated with PFAS.
3. A provision that requires the DoD to establish a schedule with proposed deadlines to complete PFAS remediation at all military bases, National Guard facilities, and formerly used defense sites that have been identified as having a PFAS release related to DoD activities.
Clean Drinking Water at Fort Drum: Gillibrand helped secure $27 million authorized for energy resilience and conservation investment projects that will help maintain and improve Fort Drum’s water infrastructure. Specifically, this funding will support the Wellfield Expansion Resilience Project to help develop the Fort Drum water supply.
Basic Needs Allowance: Gillibrand helped secure key provisions of the Military Hunger Prevention Act of 2021, a bill to support military families struggling with food insecurity, which was introduced by Senator Duckworth. Unintended barriers to assistance exist for struggling military families, such as counting a service member’s basic housing allowance as revenue in determining eligibility for federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).? As a result, low-income military families facing food insecurity are disqualified from this resource and often rely on food pantries and food banks for emergency food assistance. Along with Senator Duckworth, Gillibrand helped correct this unacceptable situation and ensure these families can put food on the table by establishing a basic needs allowance for service members with a gross income at or below 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. Authorizing a basic needs allowance to eligible, low-income members of the Armed Forces will help low-income military families living with food insecurity make ends meet.