WASHINGTON, MA — Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act. It includes a number of locally-important policies Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) has championed as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which writes the nation’s defense spending bill.
“Since the very beginning of our country, Massachusetts’ workers have built the tools and technologies to protect it,” Moulton said. “Once again this year, the defense bill includes funding that will support hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout New England, including in Lynn, where the headlines at River Works are finally about hiring. I’m also proud to announce that I added the Brandon Act to the bill, which will help more people seek out mental health care. It’s one of several mental health care policies I secured that will help service members who serve all of us.”
Moulton sits on the House committee that writes The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The bill sets the funding levels, expenditures and authorizations for the Department of Defense every fiscal year. The House and Senate Armed Services Committee write versions of the bill for their respective chambers of Congress. The two versions are then negotiated into a final bill which is sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Congress has successfully passed the defense bill for 60 consecutive years.
According to a 2015 study from the Donahue Institute for Economy and Public Policy Research at UMass the defense industry creates more than 200,000 jobs at more than 4,000 employers throughout New England.
Moulton included several of his bills and funding for several locally-important projects in the defense bill:
ADDING THE BRANDON ACT
Moulton incorporated the Brandon Act into the FY 2021 NDAA as an amendment. The bill is named for Brandon Caserta, a Navy sailor who died from suicide. It allows service members to seek mental health treatment by using a common phrase like “Brandon Act.” It is designed to protect service members who experience mental health emergencies that result from hazing, bullying, or any other issue. It would allow them to seek help anonymously and, if necessary, outside of the chain of command. Moulton introduced the bill with the support of Brandon’s parents, Patrick and Teri Caserta, on June 25th, the second anniversary of Brandon’s death.
“Brandon tragically lost his life because he wasn’t able to get support for his mental health—something we should provide every American, especially every American hero in uniform. This bill will ensure our service members can get help and have no fear of retaliation for doing so, as it’s the right thing to do,” Moulton said. “Although we’ll never get Brandon back, his legacy will be the lives of many more great Americans he saves through this bill, and I’m proud of his parents who have fought so hard to tell his story and make this change.”
EXPANDING MENTAL HEALTH CHECKUPS
In last year’s NDAA, Moulton secured mental health checkups for service members returning from a combat deployment within two weeks of their return home and then annually thereafter. This year, he expanded the initiative to include service members who participate in warfighting activities but aren’t necessarily deployed to warzones. Some examples of personnel covered in this year’s expansion of the checkup program include drone pilots, members of the intelligence community and service members who operate remote weapons systems.
Last year, Moulton shared his own story about managing post-traumatic stress for the first time. He did it in order to help break the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health care. He also issued a plan that included expanding access to mental health checkups for service members, and he intends to continue building on this work using the NDAA and other policy tools. A second piece of the plan, making 9-8-8 the three-digit national number for mental health emergencies, is also close to completion. Last week, the FCC authorized the number for use by 2022. Moulton’s bill to fund the hotline has passed in the Senate and recently cleared a key committee in the House, meaning it is on its way for a vote on the House floor.
CREATING BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SCHOLARSHIPS
In addition to expanding access to mental health checkups, Moulton also wants the military to recruit more qualified mental health care providers. He wrote $10 million into the defense bill to fund behavioral health scholarships that allow the military to recruit and retain behavioral health providers working within the Department of Defense. The shortage of qualified providers in the military makes talking about difficult things even harder. For example, service members working on classified programs can’t discuss their work-related mental health concerns with health care workers unless the providers have a security clearance. When mental health care providers aren’t available, service members often confide mental health concerns in chaplains and other members of their teams that, while well intentioned, simply aren’t fully qualified to provide mental health care.
LANDING MORE FUNDING FOR GE LYNN’S ITEP PROGRAM
The FY 2021 NDAA includes the next installment of funding for GE’s Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP), which makes a new generation of helicopter engines for the military’s Blackhawk and Apache helicopters. Over the years, Moulton has worked hard to secure funding for the ITEP program, bringing in more than $1 billion to the program since he began working in Congress. Last year, Moulton announced the GE River Works plant landed a half-billion dollar contract to build ITEP prototypes, the first stage towards full production. The Armed Services Committee-passed version of the NDAA includes a new installment of $249 million.
MANUFACTURING LYNN-MADE F/A-18 HORNET ENGINE SPARES
In addition to the ITEP Program, GE Lynn manufactures spare engines for the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets. Following 2019 reports that the Navy lacked enough spare parts, Moulton helped the Armed Services committee allocate $2.2 billion in funding.
FUELING RESEARCH INNOVATIONS FOR TROOPS
Moulton helped secure $5 million in funding for HEROES, a joint initiative between UMass Lowell and the Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Soldier Center. The lab develops technologies that help the military better equip service members. Research projects currently underway include fabrics that capture sunlight to power gear, protect service members from bug bites and receive and transmit information through small antennas that lighten the load for service members. A full list of active projects is available here.
SUPPORTING MILITARY FAMILIES
Moulton joined an effort led by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) to create a special allowance for service members who otherwise do not qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This special allowance would cover basic food costs for veterans and was funded at $50 million dollars. Additionally, the overall bill continues to improve the quality of life for our men and women in uniform, supporting the authorization for a 3.0 percent pay increase.
FUNDING RESEARCH PROJECTS
Moulton helped land $10 million in grants for several research programs on advanced artificial intelligence, analytics, and cybersecurity. Northeastern University is leading the nation on these fronts. Furthermore, UMASS Medical School will receive $10 million for their research into enteric diseases, done in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency if these pieces of the bill clear negotiation.
BUILDING A NATIONAL SECURITY INNOVATION NETWORK
Hacking for Defense is an initiative within the National Security Innovation Network that teaches college students across the nation about a specific problem the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community faces, and then challenges them to develop prototypes that could solve the problem. The government can select prototypes for future development. Moulton helped secure $20 million in additional funding for the program in the Committee-passed version of the NDAA. By applying private sector approaches to solving government problems, Moulton believes Hacking for Defense will deliver on its goal to solve national security challenges faster.
STRENGTHENING INTERNATIONAL MILITARY STUDENT VETTING
On December 3, 2020, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force on an exchange program with the Navy shot and killed 3 U.S. Navy sailors and injured 8 others in an attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. The FBI investigation into the shooting revealed ties between the gunman and al-Qaeda, making the shooting a terrorist attack. In response, Moulton included a provision that makes sure the current Administration conducts a thorough vetting process of military students of foreign nations trying to train on U.S. bases so that the military can safely continue training exchanges.
PROTECTING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP
Earlier today, Moulton and Rep. Ayanna Pressley announced that they successfully amended the NDAA to protect foreign students studying in the US from losing their visas. President Trump has called for international students to be kicked out of the country if they do not have in person classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Taking visas away from students studying at American colleges and universities just because they’re learning remotely during the pandemic is not only xenophobic, it’s going to make us less safe. When international students can learn in America, many stay and bring their valuable perspectives, languages, and talents to institutions that protect our national security,” Moulton said. “I’m going to keep fighting so international students studying here can stay and worry about their classes, not about a president who wants to demonize them.”
More information on this amendment is available here.
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