During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I had the honor to serve alongside incredible soldiers who were prepared to make huge sacrifices for the United States and our freedoms. Men and women alike were willing to take on enormous risks for our cause, some of whom were not even U.S. citizens. Nonetheless, they stood, shoulder to shoulder, alongside one another to defend our liberties. Now, as a Member of Congress, one of my top priorities is to make sure that the promises made to my fellow veterans in exchange for their sacrifices are kept. Thankfully, the recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) does just that.
In addition to rebuilding our military readiness and giving our troops a well-deserved pay raise, two of my priorities were included in the final bill, both of which were directly influenced by my experience in the Ohio National Guard and my work with fellow veterans.
Every day in Iraq, I was surrounded by many Iraqi individuals who served as incredible allies willing to make tremendous sacrifices for the benefit of America. These courageous interpreters, support staff, servicemen and women never turned their back on our mission: to protect the freedoms Americans enjoy daily. Now, we must keep our promise to them - we must have their backs.
I cosponsored the Afghan Allies Protection Act, H.R. 2796, to make sure we don’t abandon the thousands of Afghan and Iraqi individuals who supported our mission. When I served as Battalion Commander, I saw firsthand how crucial their support was. Now, as a result of their support of American forces, they, and their families, are facing continued threats and violence from extremist groups, and they are seeking refuge in the U.S.
This legislation will provide 4,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), available exclusively to those foreign allies facing persecution for serving U.S. military force as interpreters or other support staff. It will also work to ensure the State Department is operating efficiently to admit qualified applicants and would require the State Department to report to Congress on the obstacles to protecting Iraqi and Afghan allies, and to make suggestions for improving the program.
Not only is this the right thing to do, but it is a matter of national security. Our allies must know that they can trust the United States to keep its promises and that their sacrifices will not be in vain.
That is also true for many of our female servicemembers. Every soldier is prepared to make sacrifices, but they should not be forced to needlessly sacrifice their health, and their children’s health, to preventable circumstances.
Unfortunately, despite record numbers of women in the Armed Forces, and nearly 2 million female veterans nationwide, very little is reported about the unique impacts of service on their health. It is no secret that the conditions of service, such as exposure and stress, take a toll on the health of all of our soldiers, but more information is needed about the specific effects it takes on issues like gynecological health, including low birth weight, preterm birth, and reduced fertility.
I offered an amendment to the NDAA to ensure we have that information. In 1999, Congress authorized the Millennium Cohort Study to evaluate data on the health conditions of all members of the Armed Forces throughout their enlistments in the military. This amendment directs the Secretary of Defense to submit an annual report on the findings of the study relating to women’s health including completed, ongoing, and future projects. The Secretary must also identify areas for improvement and courses of action to address shortcomings. Both the report and courses of action must be submitted every year for three years.
For over thirty years in the Ohio Army National Guard, I have served with incredible women, and they should not be expected to continue to sacrifice their health when the information we need is available. Even today, I am fortunate to have a Wounded Warrior serving on my Congressional staff, and her disability status is directly related to the circumstances she faced in the service while pregnant. We owe it to her, and to all women and their families to better understand the unique impact of service on their health and to find solutions that will best protect them. This legislation will create that battle plan.
I am grateful that Congress was able to put aside politics and do the right thing for those individuals who made tremendous sacrifices for our freedoms. These are commonsense promises, and we owe it to our veterans to keep them. If you would like to learn more about my amendments, the SIV program, or other efforts to improve health, contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2015, my Hilliard office at (614) 771-4968, my Lancaster office at (740) 654-2654, or my Wilmington office at (937) 283-7049.