Senate Passes Feingold-Murkowski Effort to Help Wounded Troops

Bipartisan Amendment to Defense Authorization Bill, Passed By the Senate, Will Help Service Members During Their Transition to Civilian Life

Washington, D.C. – Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a Defense authorization bill, which included a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to help troops transitioning to civilian life and to ensure forces here at home are better prepared to respond to emergencies.  The amendment, based on their bipartisan Wounded Warrior Transition Assistance Act, will help ensure wounded service members of the Guard and Reserves are not discharged before their injuries are treated and evaluated.  Many wounded service members have been discharged prematurely and this has compromised their recovery and imposed additional hardships upon them and their families. 
“I am pleased the Senate recognized the need to help our brave men and women in uniform transition back to civilian life,” Feingold said.  “Hearing the story of a young soldier from Wisconsin who fell through the cracks after serving his country was both heart-breaking and infuriating.  Allowing the men and women who selflessly serve our country to be left behind is unacceptable.  With passage of this amendment, we can help ensure our service members are not faced with financial hardships that can compound the already difficult transition back to their lives at home.” 
“When members of the National Guard and Reserve return to the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan, the first thing they are thinking is ‘I want to go home,’” Murkowski said. “Under the current system, injured Guard and Reserve members are often required to convalesce in Wounded Warrior units hundreds or thousands of miles away from their hometowns. Faced with the possibility of being far away from their families, returning Guard and Reserve have an incentive to delay seeking care for their injuries. Alaska has Wounded Warrior facilities at Fort Richardson in Anchorage and Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. This amendment sends strong direction that Guard and Reserve members should be treated in Wounded Warrior units close to their communities. Hometown healing – that’s the way it should be.”
The legislation was inspired by a young soldier from Wisconsin who came to Senator Feingold for assistance when he returned from an overseas deployment with serious wounds.  He was separated from the Army without going through the medical discharge process even though he had sustained a serious injury that impaired his ability to work.  No one had informed him that he may have been entitled to medical retirement, temporary disability retirement, combat-related special compensation or incapacitation pay due to the extent of his injuries.  After his separation, it took several months for the VA to review all of his claims and begin fully compensating him for his injuries.  This imposed a profound economic hardship on his family.  Nearly a year later, the Army has recognized its mistake and plans to evaluate him for medical retirement or placement on the temporary disability retirement list.  According to the Wisconsin National Guard, these gaps in care as service members transition out of the military remain common.
Feingold and Murkowski’s legislation has broad support among military and veteran service organizations and is endorsed by Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association of the United States, and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.  The cost of the legislation is fully offset so as not to increase the federal deficit.  
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