Wes Hickman/Kevin Bishop
-- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today announced Congress has approved the 2004 Defense Authorization Act which provides spending authority for more than $100 million for South Carolina projects and includes several important policy changes to help to modernize military benefits.
Graham noted the bill will enhance the ability of the Department of Defense to fulfill its responsibilities and continue the commitment to improve the quality of life for the men and women of the Armed Forces. Graham is a member of the Armed Services Committee which oversees the authorization process in the Senate.
“The authorization bill is an essential step in providing the money to keep our national defense infrastructure up and running,” said Graham.
“This is also the vehicle through which we make substantive policy changes to improve the lives of the men and women in uniform who sacrifice to protect and defend our way of life,” said Graham.
Policy provisions in the bill include:
Improved Health Care Benefits for Guard and Reserve Members
Graham secured funding for expanded TRICARE coverage in the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill already signed into law. The Authorization bill gives the Department of Defense the authority to spend money on this endeavor.
Under the old law, members of the Guard and Reserve and their families could only enroll in TRICARE when called to active duty. The Graham provision allows unemployed reservists and guardsmen and those that are not eligible for health insurance from their employers to enroll fulltime in TRICARE; provides TRICARE coverage to all guardsmen and reservists once they receive orders to deploy, currently they don’t receive their benefits until they actually deploy; allows all reservists and guardsmen to stay on TRICARE six months after deployment to ease the transition back to their private insurance.
“I am pleased that my colleagues have come together in a bipartisan fashion to improve healthcare for the brave men and women who valiantly serve our country in the Guard and Reserves and their families” said Graham. “The sacrifices they make to defend our freedom deserve to be rewarded. This is an extremely significant step toward repaying their efforts; however, there is more to be done and more to come.”
The bill authorizes a 10-year phase-in of full concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation for active duty and reserve retirees with disability ratings of 50 percent or greater. Passage of this benefit has been a priority for the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other veterans organizations.
The bill authorizes an average 4.15 percent across the board pay raise for all uniformed service personnel, with targeted pay raises ranging from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent for mid-career service members.
Special Duty Pay
The bill authorizes the continuation of special pay for duty subject to hostile fire or imminent danger in the amount of $225 per month through December 31, 2004.
Family Separation Allowances
The bill authorizes the continuation of family separation allowances in the amount of $250 per month through December 31, 2004.
Commissary Privilege for Guard and Reserve Members
The bill removes the limit on the number of visits Guard and Reserve members can make per year to commissaries. Graham introduced this provision in the Armed Services Committee and led the fight for its inclusion in the bill. Additionally, the bill grants use of the commissary to reserve retirees under the age of 60. Equal access to commissary stores is a benefit that recognizes the increased responsibility of the reserve forces for homeland defense and worldwide deployment and helps to ensure continued patronage of commissaries experiencing reduced income. This also provides a proven incentive for recruiting and retaining military members.
The bill also authorizes spending for South Carolina related projects that were included in the 2004 Defense Appropriations Bill. Highlights of the projects include:
South Carolina Upstate<.u>
South Carolina Midlands
- $26 million for P-3 aircraft Anti-Surface Warfare kits in Greenville. The Anti-Surface Warfare Improvement program greatly expands the P-3C’s capabilities and includes additional advanced technology sensors, expanded communication systems, upgraded weapon delivery capabilities, and survivability upgrades.
- $9.2 million for Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTT) to fund prototype development in Greenville.
- $1.2 million for Formidable Aligned Carbon ThermoSets (FACTS), a new composite product for naval aircraft construction. FACTS will allow the design and fabrication of much more efficient designs significantly lowering airframe weight.
South Carolina Lowcountry
- $8.5 million for construction of Shaw Deployment Center, Shaw Air Force Base, Sumter. These funds were appropriated today in the 2004 Military Construction Appropriations Bill.
- $5 million for M-249 Squad Automatic Weapons (Army) and $4 million for M-249 Squad Automatic Weapons (Marines) produced in Columbia. The M-249 is a portable, high-fire volume, highly reliable light machine gun which serves as one of the Army infantry and Marines most valuable weapon systems. In addition, the bill authorizes an additional $18.8 million for the Army and $6 million for the Marines to purchase additional weapons.
- $1.2 million for the development of an Advanced Electric Drive for military use.
- $8.863 million for construction of Charleston Air Force Base housing. These funds were appropriated today in the 2004 Military Construction Appropriations Bill.
- $2 million for the development of an Autolog System, a concept that uses multi-point stabilization to overcome the pendulations problems on existing shipboard cranes. Research will be conducted in Charleston.
- $2.25 million for continued development of multi-spectral Barium GaloGermanite (BGG) glass window technology, an essential component for airborne reconnaissance systems. Research and development of BGG glass is conducted in Hilton Head.
- $2.8 million for the procurement of Quadrangle Containers, produced in Charleston. These shipping containers divide into four separate sections to aid in transport by facilitating the loading and unloading process.
- $2.1 million for further development of Lean Munitions, designed to reduce the time necessary to design, manufacture and test munitions to keep pace with the Army’s increased operational tempo.
- $2.35 million for the Charleston Naval Weapons Station South Annex Gate 4. These funds were appropriated today in the 2004 Military Construction Appropriations Bill.
- $1.5 million in additional funds for the Consolidated Infrastructure Protection Center (CIPC) at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in Charleston.
- $5 million for Eagle Vision which provides the National Guard, including the South Carolina National Guard, with in-theater, real-time acquisition and processing of commercial satellite imagery of our adversary’s territory.
“Our state is the tip of the spear for our nation’s armed services,” said Graham. “South Carolina is also a leader in military technology and plays a vital role in the war on terrorism. The men and women stationed here, both active duty and reserve components, play a major role in defending American interests around the world and providing freedom.”
“I am proud to be from a state that is invaluable to America’s fighting force,” said Graham. “We provide the human assets and support systems that make the U.S. military the world’s premier fighting force.”