A member of the House Armed Services Committee who's committed to restoring military readiness was honored this week with a legislator of the year award at the 34th annual Virginia Congressional Appreciation Luncheon in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., slipped away from the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) markup to join Virginia-based MOAA chapter members and MOAA national staff at the luncheon and accept his award. The congressman said he's determined to address the alarming number of military aviation mishaps and crashes that have occurred since across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration went into effect.
“Aircraft accidents since the sequester have gone up 40 percent,” Wittman said. “There's no reason for that, folks.” The 2019 NDAA will help rebuild readiness, he added, which Congress has an obligation to do “in the most efficient way possible.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who also spoke at the event, talked about the importance of the military retiree and veteran community in his state.
“No state is as connected to the nation's military mission as Virginia,” Kaine said. “… One out of every nine Virginians is a veteran. Add to that active-duty, Guard, Reserve, DoD civilians, and family members … and basically … one of [every] three Virginians has a direct family tie to the nation's military mission.”
That's just one of the reasons Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., said it's important for Virginia-based small businesses to support DoD efforts as contractors. She took suggestions from MOAA members on how her state can better assist with veteran employment.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., discussed the challenges of military spouse employment, the education of military children, child care, and budget issues such as increasing TRICARE fees, retirees with medical issues, and the widow's tax.
“We have a tight budget, and we have to make budget choices,” he said.
The luncheon was an opportunity for congressional leaders from both parties to talk to MOAA members. Bipartisan spirit can sometimes rare in Washington, Rep. Tom Garrett Jr., R-Va., said. Yet when it comes to working on veterans' issues, he added, members of Congress band together.
“We need you to keep doing what you're doing and keep telling us what's important,” he said. “So thank you also for that.”
One example of that is H.R. 1928, the Families of Fallen Servicemembers First Act, which was introduced by Rep. Gerry Connelly, D-Va., and has bipartisan support. That bill would ensure military survivors continue to receive benefits in the event of a government shutdown.
“If there's one carve-out we can justify, it's that sacred payment to those families whose loved ones paid the ultimate price,” he said while urging MOAA members to encourage their representatives to sign onto the bill.