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Pay, Medical, Family Issues Highlight Budget Request

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2010 – Recognizing the nation’s responsibility to support its men and women in uniform and their families, President Barack Obama will request increased funding for military pay, housing allowances, family support programs and care for wounded warriors, White House officials said today.

The budget request, expected to be released Feb. 1, will include a 1.4 percent basic pay raise officials say is designed to keep military pay increases in line with those in the private sector. The request also will include an average housing allowance increase of 4.2 percent, as well as a variety of enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses and monthly payments for specialty skills.

Family support programs will grow 3 percent if Congress approves the request – to $8.8 billion – to support the family members who officials credit with providing the strength and stability on which the uniformed force relies.

The request will include $1.3 billion to make affordable, high-quality child care services more available at 800 military child development centers stateside and overseas. This represents an $87 million increase over fiscal 2010 funding levels, officials noted.

Expanded counseling and assistance services to be funded in the new budget will help families meet the challenges of repeated deployments and family separations, officials noted. The president will request $1.9 billion for these services, which range from financial counseling to transition and relocation assistance, up $37 million from fiscal 2010 funding.

In addition, the request will include $84 million for enhanced career and educational opportunities for military spouses through tuition assistance and federal internship programs. This represents a $12 million increase over current funding.

Another provision in the request will provide $439 million to build 10 new Department of Defense Education Activity schools. This is the first step in a Defense Department plan to replace or renovate 103 of the schools by 2015, providing military children what officials called “the world-class education they deserve,” offered in “world-class facilities.”

Providing high-quality medical care for more than 9.5 million servicemembers and their families and military retirees -- but especially wounded, ill and injured troops -- remains a top administration priority, officials said. Toward that end, the fiscal 2011 budget request includes support for wounded warrior transition units and centers of excellence in vision, hearing, traumatic brain injury and other areas.

Specifically, it includes: $30.9 billion overall for medical care, up 5.8 percent from current levels; $669 million to provide TBI and psychological health care; and $250 million for continued mental-health and TVI research.

The budget request also will fund more employment and job training for military spouses and veterans, officials noted. It provides $262 million for the Labor Department’s Veterans Employment and Training Service, up $6 million from fiscal 2010 levels. This includes $5 million for a new initiative to help homeless women veterans and homeless families.

Another effort, to provide more employment workshops for spouses of separating servicemembers, will receive $1 million in the president’s budget request.

The budget request also seeks to expand veterans’ access to medical care, officials noted. Obama will request $50.6 billion in advance appropriations for the VA medical care program to ensure veterans’ care isn’t interrupted due to budget delays. The goal, officials explained, is to ensure VA has timely, predictable funding from year to year, so veterans can rely on the quality and accessibility of the care they receive through VA.

For the first time, highly disabled veterans who are medically retired from the military will be eligible to receive both VA disability benefits and military retirement benefits. By 2015, all medically retired servicemembers will be eligible to receive concurrent benefits, officials said.

The fiscal 2011 budget request also provides funds to continue enrolling more than 500,000 veterans with moderate income into the VA health care system by 2011.

Another measure in the request funds technology to improve the timely, high-quality delivery of health care and benefits, officials said. The Defense Department and VA are implementing the Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record – essentially an electronic medical record that will follow a servicemember from initial enlistment through retirement or separation and transition to the VA system.

The request also includes more than $200 million in automated processing to directly improve both the accuracy and timeliness of the delivery of veterans benefits – particularly disability compensation and the new Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit, officials said.

Speaking to military spouses today at the Joint Armed Forces Officers’ Wives Club at Bolling Air Force Base here, First Lady Michelle Obama said the budget request represents a shared interest among administration officials, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, and the entire military chain of command to take care of servicemembers and their families.

“The quality of the lives of our military and their families means a great deal, because in the history of our all-volunteer forces, we’ve never asked so much of so few,” she said. “We’ve seen the huge burden of eight years of war on our troops – tour after tour, year after year, missing out on moments that every parent treasures: a baby’s first steps, the first words, the day the training wheels come off the bike, birthdays, anniversaries.”

Obama said she’s been inspired by the spirit of the men and women in uniform and the families who stand with them as they serve the nation.

“All of you – our troops and families – you do your duty, and you do it without complaint,” she said. “You give your all and ask very little in return -- only that we back you up so our troops can do their job.

“That’s why my husband and his administration have worked to do right by our armed forces and their families,” she said, “to be there for you like you have been there for us, to lighten your load as all of you have lightened ours.”

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