The U.S. House is expected to vote on a bill this afternoon that will fix a "bureaucratic glitch" that denied some Iowa National Guard troops the leave benefits they earned.
Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, has been trying to prod the Defense Department to provide the additional two-hundred-dollars per day it had promised Guard soldiers for extended deployments.
"So today, we are going to be voting on the Defense Appropriations Act which includes a provision requiring the D.O.D. to provide these retroactive benefits to soldiers who’ve earned them," Braley says.
About 800 Iowa National Guard soldiers did not receive this so-called "respite leave" benefit because there was a delay in the time the military announced it would provide the benefit in 2007 and when each division of the military started making the payments. As many as 20-thousand Guard soldiers nationwide are owed these $200-per-day payments for extended tours of duty.
"One of the things I’ve been hammering on the Pentagon throughout this ordeal is that troops who have served their country with honor deserve the benefits they’ve earned and shouldn’t lose them just because of a bureaucratic delay by the Pentagon," Braley says.
Iowa’s two U.S. Senators — Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin — have been pushing this issue on the senate side, too, but Braley says there’s not yet been a vote in the senate on a bill that forces the Pentagon to provide the money for the benefits for the Guard soldiers. The House voted on a bill in June that "allowed" the Pentagon to provide the benefits, according to Braley, the bill the House will vote on this afternoon goes one step further.
"This provision in the appropriations bill requires the Pentagon to find the money to pay these benefits," Braley says. "They have no excuse to continue denying our men and women the benefits that they’ve earned and they cannot continue avoiding giving the benefits to our troops that they’re entitled to."
About 600 Iowa National Guard members were part of a unit that was deployed in September of 2005 and spent the next 22 months on active duty; 16 months of that was spent in Iraq. It is the longest stint in Iraq for any unit in the military, including full-time units. Braley says Iowa National Guard soldiers have served "some of the most grueling tours of duty of any in Iraq and Afghanistan" and they deserve the extra pay for extended tours.