Legislation signed into law includes Klobuchar provisions that will examine the health effects of exposure to burn pits on veterans; support children of National Guard and Reserve members; a Klobuchar-backed Reed provision to extend permanent residency status to eligible Liberians; improve voting processes for members of the military to ensure all ballots from servicemembers are counted; and combat foreign influence campaigns
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced today that five of her provisions to support servicemembers, veterans, and their families have been included in the reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The first provision, based on the bipartisan Burn Pit Accountability Act, introduced with Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), would require servicemembers to be evaluated for health issues caused by exposure to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals during routine health exams. The second provision is based on the Supporting Children of the National Guard and Reserve Act, introduced with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), and would support children in National Guard and Reserve families by requiring states to identify students from military families in school records to ensure that schools and teachers know which students have parents in the military to help accommodate any additional needs. The third provision is based on the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, a Klobuchar-backed bill with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), which would allow eligible Liberians to apply for permanent residency and provide them with a pathway to citizenship. The fourth provision would authorize the Department of Defense and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to conduct a study to determine necessary steps to track ballots from servicemembers across the world to ensure that their votes are being counted. The fifth provision is based on the Combatting Foreign Influence Act, introduced with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), to establish a Malign Foreign Influence Response Center to combat election interference operations conducted by foreign adversaries against the United States.
“We owe it to the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for our country to provide them with the best possible health care, which includes evaluations of toxic exposure. We also must ensure that servicemembers’ votes are counted no matter where they’re stationed, and support their families here at home. Additionally, the creation of a disinformation response center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will help our intelligence community establish a collaborative, comprehensive approach to protecting our democracy from information warfare and better secure our democracy. These provisions will strengthen the NDAA and do right by those who sacrifice so much for our security,” Klobuchar said.
“Our work to secure a path to citizenship for eligible Liberians here in America is now law. There has been a vibrant Liberian community in Minnesota for decades, and they are an important part of our state, where they serve as business owners, teachers, and health care workers. This hard fought step toward permanent citizenship is well-deserved for this community that has worked hard and played by the rules.”
“The passage of this Burn Pit legislation is another positive step forward to address the health concerns of our armed forces. It means everything to our family that Amie’s life impacted so many people and that her death did not go unnoticed.” Brian Muller said. “I am thankful for Senator Klobuchar’s tireless efforts to ensure servicemembers will be evaluated for their exposure to toxic chemicals while they are still serving, and not after. Amie and I had a lot of plans together – a lot of dreams, a lot of hopes – but she would be proud of the progress that has been made here today.”
The Burn Pits Accountability Act
In January 2019, Klobuchar and Sullivan reintroduced the bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act to require members of the Armed Forces to be evaluated for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals during routine health exams and to direct the Secretary of Defense to record and share whether servicemembers were based or stationed near an open burn pit, including any information recorded as part of the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, the Periodic Health Assessment (PHAs), Separation History and Physical Examination (SHPEs), and Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHAs). Members exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit would also be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless they chose to opt out.
The burning of waste on military bases exposed many servicemembers to a variety of potentially harmful substances. Plastic, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, tires, and batteries were thrown into open pits, often doused with jet fuel, and set on fire. As a result, many deployed soldiers were exposed to smoke from these open-air burn pits. Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, neurological effects, reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity. Troops who have worked in these areas are subject to higher rates of asthma, emphysema, and rare lung disorders.
The Supporting Children of the National Guard and Reserve Act
In March 2019, Klobuchar and Collins reintroduced the bipartisan Supporting Children of the National Guard and Reserve Act to support children in National Guard and Reserve families. Currently, children of National Guard and Reserve members are excluded from the Military Student Identifier program, part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which requires states to identify students from military families in school records to ensure that schools and teachers know which students have parents in the military to help accommodate any additional needs. Klobuchar has been outspoken in Minnesota for military families and met with members of the with the Minnesota Army National Guard in Winona and Moorhead to advocate for this legislation at roundtable shortly after it originally introduced in 2017. The Supporting Children of the National Guard and Reserve Act would amend ESSA to include children of National Guard and Reserve members.
In addition to being deployed during domestic emergencies and natural disasters, National Guard and Reservists often deploy around the world and made up a significant portion of the U.S. forces that have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. More than one million military-connected children face challenges associated with service, including frequent moves, parental deployments, and other issues related to parents who may be experiencing trauma associated with deployment.
The Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act
Since 2007, Klobuchar has cosponsored the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, led by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), which would allow eligible Liberians to apply for permanent residency and provide them with a pathway to citizenship. The provision in NDAA is based on that legislation. She has also cosponsored the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act, which would allow qualified Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and DED recipients to apply for legal permanent residency, since it was first introduced in 2017.
Klobuchar has also emphasized the need to extend Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to Administration officials and Senate leaders. Klobuchar and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in March urging him to allow the Senate to consider legislation to extend protected status for Liberian recipients of DED before it expired. In February, Klobuchar, Smith, and U.S. Representatives Angie Craig (D-MN), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Collin Peterson (D-MN) sent a letter to President Trump asking him to extend protected status for Liberians in the United States, allowing recipients to remain in the country legally and receive work authorization. One month later, in March, the Administration announced a one-year extension of DED for Liberians.
Military Ballot Tracking Program
In order to ensure that servicemembers know that their votes are being counted, the military partnered with the United States Postal Service (USPS) in 2016 to conduct a pilot program to track ballots from servicemembers. The pilot program provided end-to-end tracking on ballots, similar to how a consumer can track a package. The pilot program was successful, but only included 1,588 servicemembers. Klobuchar’s provision with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) would authorize funds for the Department of Defense and USPS to conduct a study to determine what is necessary to scale the program to all members of the Armed Forces and overseas voters.
The Combatting Foreign Influence Act
In September 2019, Klobuchar and Reed introduced the Combatting Foreign Influence Act to establish a Malign Foreign Influence Response Center to combat election interference operations conducted by foreign adversaries against the United States. The legislation would require the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to establish a Malign Foreign Influence Response Center where officials from across the intelligence community could collaborate and ensure that agencies and departments are working together to assess influence operations with a whole-of-government approach. Similar steps have been taken to address terrorism through the establishment of the Counterterrorism Center at the ODNI. The Combatting Foreign Influence Act is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
Throughout her time in the Senate, Klobuchar has worked across the aisle to modernize G.I. Bill benefits for our troops, strengthen funding for veterans’ health care and improve mental health care for our nation’s soldiers. In December, the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act was signed into law and contained two of Klobuchar’s provisions. Klobuchar and Senator Thom Tillis’ (R-NC) Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act will create a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to better understand the health effects associated with burn pits and treat veterans who become sick after exposure. Her bipartisan Support our Military Spouses Act will ease the relocation process frequently required of military families by ensuring that spouses of active duty servicemembers do not have to establish new legal residency every time they move for a military reassignment.