This past week, IAVA saw incredible progress on a number of issues that will impact the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. The clock was ticking, but IAVA kept the pressure on and we cut through the gridlock that has plagued Washington all year. After a hectic and historic lame duck session, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan saw several key victories, including critical GI Bill upgrades, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the passage of the Defense Bill (NDAA).
Here’s the breakdown:
Complete: Upgrades to the New GI Bill.
In 2008, historic New GI Bill legislation was signed into law. Since then, IAVA has been fighting for critical upgrades where the benefit was lacking. These upgrades, which were passed last week, will impact 400,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans within the first year. These include:
You can read more about the upgrades signed into law by the President here .
Complete: Congress repeals “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (DADT).
IAVA was the only major veteran service organization (VSO) that came out in support of DADT repeal. IAVA fought to end this policy, and working with bipartisan allies in Congress, we made it happen. Now, every single member of our military can serve with openness and honesty and be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, ensuring better military effectiveness.
In July 2010, the House voted to repeal DADT as part of the original 2011 NDAA. However, the Senate repeatedly failed to bring the bill to a vote. After last Friday's failed attempt in the Senate, Senators Collins (R-ME) and Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a stand-alone bill repealing DADT. The Senate voted on the bill over the weekend, which passed with strong bipartisan support, 65-31. On a parallel track in the House, Rep. Hoyer (D, MD-5) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D, PA-8) introduced an identical bill in the House that was passed last Thursday by a vote of 250-175.
IAVA joined the President as he signed the historic legislation on Wednesday, December 22nd. You can read IAVA’s statement here .
Complete: Extended job protections to veterans employed by Congress.
Twelve years ago, the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act extended veterans preference to hiring for government jobs – including USERRA protection. However, it exempted all legislative branch jobs from this law. Last week, Congress passed a joint resolution to extend veterans preference and job protections to employees within the Capitol Police Force, the Architect of the Capitol, the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Compliance and some support positions in the House and Senate. Certain jobs in Congressional offices will remain exempt.
Complete: Congress passes the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The 2011 NDAA, which initially included the repeal of DADT, failed to get the votes necessary to get through the Senate. The prospect of being the first Congress in 48 years to fail to pass the Defense Authorization, alongside pressure from IAVA, drove the House and Senate Armed Services Committee's to negotiate a bill stripped of all controversial provisions. The New 2011 NDAA easily passed both the Senate and House and was quickly signed into law by the President.
Included in the NDAA are provisions that:
Please click here  to learn more about the NDAA.
Complete: Congress investigates fraud at Arlington.
Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution that will require the Army to overhaul procedures surrounding gravesite registration at Arlington National Cemetery. After it was discovered several graves were mislabeled, Congress is now requiring Arlington to audit the records of all 300,000 graves. Also, there will be a review of several issued and failed contracts to digitize Arlington's records system and an assessment of the feasibility of transferring the administration of Arlington from the Army to the VA, which manages all 132 other national cemeteries. The resolution is now awaiting the President’s final signature.
Complete: Congress passes the James Zadroga 9/11 First Responders Health and Compensation Act of 2010.
On Wednesday, December 22nd, the Senate unanimously passed the 9/11 First Responders bill that will provide ongoing health care and other benefits for workers exposed to toxins in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks. The House voted to pass the legislation on Wednesday afternoon. The President has signed this into law.
Please read IAVA’s statement on the legislation here .