Legislation for our Military Families and Veterans
With thousands of our troops now deployed in Afghanistan, and thousands more probably headed to Iraq, it is important to remember the sacrifices made by our military families. Congress should do everything possible to make sure our soldiers and our veterans receive adequate pay, housing, health care, tax relief, and disability benefits.
I recently cosponsored legislation that would exempt members of Americaís armed forces from income taxes. This legislation, introduced by my colleague John Culberson, would extend the existing tax exemption for armed forces serving in combat zones to the entire active duty military. This would eliminate withholding and income tax filing for the nationís soldiers, allowing them to keep their entire paychecks.
The men and women of our nationís armed forces work for incredibly low pay, and they should not have that pay reduced even further by federal taxes. Many military families live on less than $20,000 annually, and some have been forced to accept welfare just to provide basic food and shelter for their children. Our nation should never permit its armed forces to live in poverty. A full-time active duty soldier should always be able to house, feed, and clothe his or her family. This legislation would provide every American servicemember with an immediate pay raise without additional federal spending.
I also recently voted to support legislation that would make it easier for military families to qualify for the homeownerís tax exemption when selling a house. Current tax rules require a homeowner to live in a residence for two continuous years to qualify for the exemption, but servicemembers tend to transfer between bases frequently. Congress voted overwhelmingly to change the two-year requirement for our armed forces, and hopefully the bill will become law before the end of the year.
Similarly, Congress recently passed a resolution calling for a change in veteranís disability payments. Currently, retired soldiers may only receive either their military pension or military disability benefits- not both. Nonmilitary government retirees and private sector employees, however, do receive both standard pensions and disability pay. This is very unfair to military retirees, who deserve pay for both their career work and the separate incident that caused their disability. Last weekís vote moves us closer to ending this injustice.
Finally, Congress should end the silence and formally address Gulf War Syndrome, which has had a devastating impact on thousand of veterans who served in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. As a medical doctor, I believe the evidence behind the existence of the syndrome is now conclusive. The syndrome likely represents several different maladies caused by exposure to conditions specific to the Gulf region at that time. We should be providing medical treatment to our sick Gulf War veterans, not insulting them by insisting that "itís all in their heads." Congress should lead the way and craft legislation that requires VA hospitals to recognize and treat Gulf War Syndrome like any other illness. Itís the least we can do for the soldiers who risked their lives in the Gulf.