June 29, 2009

Wyden Unveils "Soft Landing" and Related Bills to Help Soldiers, Military Families and Veterans

Portland, OR - Keeping a promise he made to help National Guard soldiers adjust to life after combat, Senator Ron Wyden today unveiled a package of legislation that includes a 90-day "soft landing" for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"One of the hard lessons we have learned from years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is that we weren't ready to respond to the modern challenges facing National Guard soldiers, their families, our wounded soldiers, or our veterans," Wyden said. "Guard soldiers dodge the same bullets as active-duty soldiers, and they all deserve an equal, higher level of care when they return home."

The "National Guard and Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act" is part of a package of bills Wyden is introducing to help soldiers, their families and veterans. The other bills will allow families to spend more time with returning or deploying soldiers, allow soldiers wounded in combat to remain in the military if they choose, improve mental health services for veterans, and increase accountability and public information for veterans' health care.

"These men and women have sacrificed a lot for their country, and we are just going to have to do a better job of helping them re-adjust to civilian life," added Wyden.

The package of bills includes:

"The National Guard and Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act of 2009" will ensure that returning service members have a firm safety net when they return from war. By allowing them to remain on active duty for up to 90 days, collect pay, and access reintegration services, this legislation will help ease the adjustment from combat to civilian life. Currently Guard and Reserve troops have only a few days to readjust before returning to civilian life.

"The Military Family Leave Act of 2009" would give immediate family members (spouse, children and parents) of deploying soldiers up to two weeks un-paid time off to spend together before and after the deployment. Employers would not be allowed to penalize immediate family members taking time off to ease the transition of a deploying soldier. Currently, a patchwork of leave programs requires larger business to give time off to some family members. The Military Family Leave Act would apply to all businesses and part time employees as well as full time employees.

"The Wounded Warrior Retention Act of 2009" will allow service members who wish to remain on active duty after suffering injuries or disabilities as a result of combat, an act of terrorism, military training or other duty-related activities to do so. Currently, some well trained and productive soldiers are forced out because of injuries, despite their ability to still contribute to the military.

"The Servicemembers Mental Health Care Commission Act of 2009" recognizes that the scars of war can be mental as well as physical. This act will form a commission to study and identify the most effective treatments available to those who are experiencing problems as well as the stigmas and barriers that stand in the way of servicemembers seeking care.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital Quality Report Card Act of 2009" will ensure that data regarding the quality of care administered by the nation's veteran's hospitals is readily available to the public in the form of a semiannual report card. This initiative will allow patients to compare the quality of healthcare provided by Veterans Affairs facilities.