Senate approves National Defense Authorization Act with provisions to update military healthcare, reform defense procurement

The Senate approved that National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Tuesday, which includes the Pentagon’s first major update in 30 years and defense acquisition reforms that aim to harness innovation.

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the sponsor of the bill, said that he was “very proud” that the Senate approved the NDAA on a bipartisan 85-13 vote.

“The NDAA is the most significant piece of defense reform legislation passed by the Senate in 30 years, containing major reforms to the Department of Defense that can help our military to rise to the challenge of a more dangerous world,” McCain said.

The spending bill would also modernize the military health system to provide military service members, retirees and families better healthcare and more access to it.

“But for all our successes, I regret that the Senate was unable to debate and vote on several matters critical to our national security, many of which enjoyed broad bipartisan support,” McCain said. “In particular, I am deeply disappointed the Senate was not able to increase the number of special immigrant visas for Afghans who risked their lives to help America in a time of war, and whose lives are still at risk today. Too often throughout this process, a single senator was able to bring the Senate’s work on our national defense to a halt. This was a breakdown in the decorum of the Senate, and one that will have serious consequences.”

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said that the NDAA would ensure that the military has the resources and equipment required to address global threats and to look out for military service members returning from the battlefield.

“Importantly, this bill also takes concrete steps to change the culture surrounding sexual assault in the military,” Ernst said. “The NDAA includes my bipartisan work with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to prevent retaliation against military sexual assault survivors by making retaliation its own crime in the military, increasing transparency, enhancing training, and implementing best practices. Furthermore, it includes my provision to provide quality legal counsel to military sexual assault survivors by creating a career track for Judge Advocate General Corps (JAGs) to specialize in criminal justice to provide more effective legal counsel for service members.”

Overall, Ernst successfully included more than 20 provisions in the NDAA. The provisions would establish protections for whistleblowers, improve criminal justice within the military, use the National Guard State Partnership Program to forge global relationships, and ensure upward mobility and safety for female service members, among others.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, successfully inserted provisions that would benefit Mississippi soldiers, veterans, military installations and manufacturers in the NDAA.

“The measure makes critical investments in new ships, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, radar systems and other electronic warfare technology,” Wicker said. “These resources and equipment would help our troops face new and ever-changing threats. It would improve the military’s health system, reduce wasteful spending and ensure that the United States can stand with its allies to protect our national security interests.”

Years of budget cuts and shortsighted policy decisions have impacted the military’s level of preparedness, Wicker said.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) successfully included provisions in the NDAA that would reform TRICARE by enhancing public and private collaboration on healthcare delivery systems, enhance the rapid deployment capabilities of Fort Bragg by extending the Pope Airfield Runway and make it easier for military spouses to gain federal employment.

“When this bipartisan legislation lands on the president’s desk, he has an obligation to quickly sign it into law to send a clear message to the world that the leaders of the United States are united when it comes to supporting our troops and strengthening our military,” Tillis said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) worked to include a provision in the NDAA that awards the Distinguished Service Cross to First Lt. Joseph Verbis LaFleur, a Catholic priest stationed with the 19th Bomb Group at Clark Air Base.

“In this time of turmoil in the Middle East, with the growing threat of organizations such as ISIS, now more than ever we need to support our troops,” Cassidy said of the bill.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), meanwhile, led provisions that would prevent the transfer of military prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station without congressional approval, provide geographic stability for military families and protect military commissary benefits.

“(On Tuesday), the Senate passed needed legislation to support our men and women who serve,” Burr said. “This legislation is critical to ensuring that our military can keep America safe. It also includes a needed pay raise for our troops and will prevent the President from handing over one of our important military bases in the region to a communist dictatorship. As Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, I recognize the daily dangers our servicemen and women experience. I thank them for their service and will continue to push for legislation that will support them.” 

The NDAA also included a bipartisan amendment led by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) to allow the Department of Defense to purchase rockets from any certified launch provider that provides the best value through December 2022.

“I’m proud that the Senate came together to ensure DOD has access to launch vehicles that it can afford,” Gardner said. “My amendment to the NDAA promotes competition by requiring the DOD to purchase rockets from certified providers that offer the best possible value. It also protects our national security by ensuring the DOD has the resources it needs to continue space exploration, which includes the ability to conduct a fair and open contracting process among certified launch providers.”

The amendment aims to promote competition, protect national security and ensure continued access to space, which is critical for missile detection systems, transmitting securing information and gathering intelligence.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) lauded inclusion of the Military Family Stability Act, a bipartisan bill to guarantee six months of geographic stability for military families.

“I’m glad we were able to come together on this bill to help military families address one of the major challenges they face: ill-timed relocations that cut into a child’s school year or prevent a spouse from pursuing their own educational or job opportunities,” Blunt said. “The military has evolved over the past decades, and the policies affecting their families should as well. This is one common-sense step we can take to provide more flexibility to the families that need it most, and I will continue working to get it signed into law.”

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said that the NDAA is among the most important pieces of legislation that Congress considers.

“(On Tuesday), the Senate passed the Authorization Act, which upholds the nuclear missions at Minot Air Force Base, the Global Hawk missions at Grand Forks and our North Dakota National Guard’s missions in Fargo,” Hoeven said. “Next, we’ll work to pass the companion bill, the Defense Appropriations Act, to ensure that our Armed Forces have the resources they need to defend our nation and the American people.”

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