Presidential war powers curbed in newly passed House defense bill

Repeals of 'Widow's Tax,' block on military medical malpractice suits included in bill

Abbie Bennett
July 12, 2019 - 1:55 pm

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The House passed its version of the annual defense spending bill Friday, which calls for curbing presidential war powers, a 3.1 percent troop pay raise and repeals of the controversial Widow's Tax and Feres Doctrine.

The bill passed with 220-197 vote, largely along party lines. Not a single Republican voted in favor of the $733 billion defense spending bill -- the largest in American history. The House and Senate will now spend the rest of the summer and into fall trying to craft a compromise bill from the two competing versions. 

Highlights of the bill for service members and veterans

  • Repeal of the "Widow's Tax" to allow Gold Star spouses access to both sets of survivor benefits for which they are eligible and prevents stripping them of thousands of dollars annually. 
  • Repeal of the Feres Doctrine, which blocks service members from suing the federal government for medical malpractice. 
  • A 3.1 percent military pay raise -- the largest since 2010.
  • Repeal of the Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran without Congressional authorization, limiting presidential war powers.
  • Repeal of the AUMF against Iraq, a 2002 authorization. 
  • Allowing transgender people to join the military.
  • The Pentagon can no longer name bases, ships or other assets in honor of the Confederacy
  • Honorary promotions for Tuskegee airman and the last of the Doolittle Raiders
  • Blocks military parades or exhibitions for political purposes.
  • Require DoD to study using two FBI databases to screen enlistees for ties to white nationalist groups.
  • Require DoD/VA to demonstrate implementation of the electronic health record system
  • Require DoD/VA to report to Congress on providing financial literacy education to separating troops and veterans.
  • Directs DoD to include the names of 74 crew members of the USS Frank E. Evans killed in 1969 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. 
  • Require DoD/VA/Coast Guard to work together on how to collectively operate the new MISSION Act and TRICARE.  
  • Prevents VA from using a veteran's income deriving from a state-legalized marijuana industry as a factor when deciding VA home loans.
  • Expand infertility treatments to all troops.
  • Make all methods of contraception available through TRICARE without copay. 
  • Establish 12 weeks of paid family leave for all federal employees.
  • Improve tracking of non-citizen veterans honorably discharged from military service, intended to prevent unnecessary ICE deportations. 
  • Work to address gambling addiction among troops.
  • Study using chaplains, houses of worship and other spiritual resources for troops of all religions to help prevent suicide. 
  • Provide $2.5 million increase to combat post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Several measures to study effects of burn pits.  
  • Provide $11 million increase in Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program. 
  • States that the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient will lay in honor in the Capitol rotunda upon death.
  • Allow Gold Star spouses to end leases of service members catastrophically injured, sickened or killed in military service.
  • Recognize, honor WWII Cadet Nurse Corps
  • Authorize Medal of Honor award to Sgt. 1st Class Alqyn Cashe for valor during combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Direct DoD to raise priority of recovering remains of POW/MIA remains. 
  • Authorize DoD to give preference to contractors who employ veterans full time. 
  • Require DoD/VA to study the impact of withholding disability pay from veterans who receive separation pay.
  • Authorize award of Vietnam Service medal to veterans in Operation End Sweep.
  • Allow DoD to refer troops for mental health care within the TRICARE network if a military hospital takes longer than 15 days to help. 
  • Prohibit DoD from contracting with any company that does not have a sexual harassment policy.
  • Require more training on military sexual trauma and partner abuse.
  • Renames Lejeune High School at Camp Lejeune, N.C. after the late Rep. Walter B. Jones.

Republicans were critical of the bill, calling for a $750 billion total spending package, including a 4 percent raise for troops, accusing Democrats of not caring enough about national security and making unnecessary cuts to overall defense spending.

But House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said it is the responsibility of Congress to manage the Department of Defense's funding allocation.

"We have a role ... to make sure that money is spent well," he said on the floor Thursday. "The Pentagon hasn't always been right. They haven't always spent their money well. That is the understatement of the morning." 

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Follow Abbie Bennett, @AbbieRBennett.

More on the National Defense Authorization Act: 

Military bases, ships can’t be named for Confederacy under defense spending bill

Repeal of ‘Widow’s Tax,’ prohibition on military malpractice lawsuits make it into House defense bill

Legislation ensuring Coast Guard gets paid during shutdown moves forward

Lawmaker tries to end military ‘widow’s tax’ but is blocked by Senate leadership

Tuskegee airman and last Doolittle Raider honored under House defense bill