WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today called on the U.S. Department of Defense to ensure that Minnesota National Guard soldiers serving overseas receive the full benefits they were promised when they return home. The Defense Department recently reduced the amount of post-deployment leave eligible soldiers receive, which could impact members of the Minnesota National Guard’s 1/34th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) that have been serving in Kuwait since July, 2011 to assist the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Klobuchar urged the Defense Department to give the Red Bulls of Minnesota’s 1/34th BCT the full amount of leave they were promised when they mobilized.
“Time and again, the Minnesota Red Bulls have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve our nation,” Klobuchar said in the letter. “I believe it is imperative that these men and women receive the full number of leave benefits they were promised and earned.”
In October, the Department of Defense made changes to the Post Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence (PDMRA) program, reducing the amount of leave benefits provided to eligible soldiers from four days per month served to one or two, depending on location of service, and also potentially reducing the number of soldiers eligible for benefits. These changes could have the impact of decreasing by up to 27 days the amount of leave accrued by approximately 770 members (95%) of the 1/34th BCT who are eligible for PDMRA benefits.
Klobuchar previously worked to help members of the Red Bulls receive over $10 million in PDMRA payments that were delayed for more than three years after the soldiers served in Iraq from 2005-2007, which was the longest tour at that time of any American military unit deployed to Iraq.
“When our men and women in uniform signed up to serve there wasn’t a line, and there shouldn’t be a line to get the benefits they earned when they come home,” Klobuchar said.“I will continue to work to ensure that the Defense Department keeps its promise to Minnesota’s Red Bulls and gives them the full benefits they deserve.”
The full text of the letter is below.
February 15, 2012
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1300 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301
Dear Secretary Panetta:
I write to express my deep concern over the impact the October 1, 2011, Department of Defense Instruction 1327.06, Leave and Liberty Policy and Procedures, Change 1(DODI 1327.06 Change 1), may have on the Post Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence (PDMRA) benefits incurred by the members of Minnesota’s 1/34th Brigade Combat Team (1/34th BCT) deployed to Kuwait. I respectfully request that you apply the new policy only to units mobilized on or after October 1, 2011, ensuring that soldiers mobilized prior to that date, like the members of the 1/34th BCT, accrue PDMRA leave at the previously established rate they were promised.
Between 2005 and 2007, the Red Bulls of Minnesota’s 1/34thBCT received honor and distinction for having served the longest tour, at the time, of any American military unit deployed to Iraq. In 2011, nearly 3,000 Red Bulls once again answered the call of duty and are currently deployed to Kuwait to provide base and route defense operations in support of the Iraq drawdown. You may recall that a three year delay in the initial implementation of the PDMRA program caused 2,500 members of this unit to be owed approximately $10 million in PDMRA back-payments – the greatest amount owed to any state’s National Guard unit. I am distressed that this very same unit may again suffer an unfair loss of PDMRA benefits.
This year, nearly 1,000 soldiers of the 1/34th BCT currently deployed to Kuwait are eligible to receive PDMRA benefits as a result of multiple deployments over the past 72 months. These soldiers signed up for battle with the understanding that they would receive four days of PDMRA leave for each month of qualifying mobilization. However, DODI 1327.06 Change 1 – which was implemented in the middle of their deployment – has reduced the number of leave days from four to one or two, depending on location of service. The new policy also allows “the Secretary concerned [to] utilize the… mobilization-to-dwell ratio of 1:5 for RC members as the qualifying threshold for providing PDMRA benefits as opposed to [a 1:6 ratio].” If implemented, this change would reduce the number of soldiers eligible for the benefits.
Depending on how DODI 1327.06 Change 1 is interpreted, it could have the impact of decreasing the amount of leave accrued by 94% of the members of the 1/34th BCT who are eligible for PDMRA benefits. Given the losses they may suffer, the deployed Red Bulls and their families in Minnesota are deeply concerned over whether and how the new policy will impact them. Three points in particular are unclear to them:
· First, because DODI 1327.06 Change 1was implemented in the middle of their deployment, Minnesota’s 1/34th BCT is uncertain as to whether the new policy applies to them at all, applies only to the months of their deployment following October 1, 2011, or applies to their entire deployment;
· Second, if the changes will apply to them in some capacity, the 1/34th BCT seeks guidance as to whether the Secretary of the Army will utilize a 1:6 or a 1:5 mobilization-to-dwell ratio to determine which soldiers qualify for benefits; and
· Finally, if the changes will apply to them in some capacity, the 1/34th BCT would like clarity on whether the Secretary of the Army will designate Kuwait as a 2- or 1-day per month PDMRA accrual location. Although the Minnesota National Guard is not aware that Kuwait has been designated as a 1-day per month PDMRA accrual location, it appears that as of January 25, 2012, their demobilization site, Camp Shelby, has begun processing PDMRA benefits as though Kuwait were a 1-day per month accrual location. Although the 1/34 BCT is stationed in Kuwait, nearly 70% of the organization focused on convoy security operations that traveled deep into Iraq to provide security to Operation New Dawn troops and equipment retrograding to Kuwait.
I respectfully request that you provide implementation guidance on DODI 1327.06 Change 1 as soon as possible to ensure that our Red Bulls receive the full amount of PDMRA leave benefits – four days per month – they were promised when they mobilized last May.
The Department of Defense established the PDMRA program to provide benefits to servicemembers deployed beyond established DOD rotation cycles. Time and again, the Minnesota Red Bulls have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve our nation. I believe it is imperative that these men and women receive the full number of leave benefits they were promised and earned.
Thank you for your leadership and attention to this important matter. I look forward to hearing from you.