Rochester Post Bulletin
In late February, we offered readers of the Post-Bulletin editorial page a short primer on the U.S. military's "Post Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence Program." It's a program that grants extra paid leave to National Guard members and other soldiers who serve longer-than-usual deployments.
The idea is that such troops, once they finally get home, deserve and need some additional time to recuperate, reconnect with their families and generally recharge their batteries. For some who don't have a job upon their return, an extra three or four weeks of "paid time off" gives their families some financial breathing room as the soldier seeks employment.
Unfortunately, we weren't bringing up this topic simply to point out that it's a good idea; rather, we were criticizing the U.S. Defense Department for breaking its promises. As a cost-saving measure, more than 2,000 deployed members of Minnesota's famed "Red Bulls" were being stripped of much of their extra leave — on average, 16 days' worth.
This story, however, has a happy ending.
Rep. John Kline, who represents Minnesota's 2nd District in the U.S. House, led the fight to get these troops the benefits they'd been promised. After writing to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to express his concerns, Kline then challenged him publicly during a meeting of the Armed Services Committee. When that didn't get the job done, he wrote and introduced a bill that would leave Panetta no choice in the matter.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar picked up the cause, sending her own letter to Panetta and also introducing companion legislation in the Senate. Last week, both the House and Senate approved a bill that would restore the paid leave for those 2,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard — as well as tens of thousands of other soldiers. And here's the kicker: Not a single member of Congress dissented.
President Obama is expected to sign the bill this week, and to expedite the process, Kline has asked that there be no signing ceremony.
It shouldn't have come to this. Panetta could and should have taken care of this on his own. It shouldn't require an act of Congress to get our troops the benefits they've earned.
But it is encouraging to see that when the cause is just and the health and welfare of our military families is at stake, our elected leaders can act quickly and decisively to make things right.