Phillips Measure to Support Gold Star Families Included in Defense Bill, Headed to President’s Desk
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2021, including the bipartisan “Cheryl Lankford Memorial to Improve Assistance for Gold Star Spouses and Other Dependents” amendment by Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03). The amendment will help keep bereaved military families from slipping through the cracks and ensure Gold Star dependent children can easily access the benefits they are owed.
“As a Gold Star Son, my gratitude to our servicemembers and their families is immeasurable,” said Phillips. “Gold Star Families have made unimaginable sacrifices, and we must do everything we can to deliver all benefits they are owed. Gold Star Families deserve our respect and support, and I am glad this amendment will soon be signed into law.”
Phillips voted for final passage of NDAA on December 8, 2020, which included eight of his amendments aimed at modernizing our national security, stabilizing international relationships, and preparing for the next global crisis, and supporting our veterans and their families:
- Supporting Gold Star Families: When a military member dies, the surviving family is visited by a Casualty Assistance Officer who advocates for the family and assists with processing benefits. However, if a Gold Star Spouse dies and leaves behind dependent children, the military does not provide any help. Phillips’s amendment would provide, at the request of the family, a Casualty Assistance Officer to support eligible dependents if the spouse of a deceased servicemember passes away.
- Finding Best Practices in Local Veterans Services: Demobilization centers assist returning soldiers as they readjust to civilian life. Minnesota has an excellent demobilization program, which is known for its use of County Veterans Service Officers (CVSOs). Through discussions with a CVSO in Carver County, Phillips learned that the use of CVSOs is not common in other states. Navigating bureaucratic red tape can be difficult for anyone, but especially for returning troops. Having an advocate helps soldiers better understand and make use of their hard-earned benefits. Phillips’s amendment requires a report on the effectiveness of CVSOs and feasibility of implementing this locally led program on a larger scale.
- Streamlining Drug Prevention Programs for Servicemembers: The Drug Demand Reduction Program (DDRP) seeks to detect and deter drug abuse. After conversations with Minnesota companies, Rep. Phillips discovered that new technology was available that could streamline the DDRP, increase effectiveness, and curb wasteful spending. Phillips’s amendment requires the Secretary of Defense to brief Congress on inefficiencies in the DDRP.
- Stabilizing America’s Response in War-Torn Regions: While the Department of Defense (DoD) receives more funding than most federal agencies, they are not always the best-equipped to address root causes of violence. The 2020 NDAA gave the DoD the ability to transfer funds to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Phillips’s amendment supports extends the deadline for this transfer of funds for stabilization activities by one year.
- Ensuring Peace Corps Operations in Times of Crisis: National service is a time-honored American tradition and is needed now more than ever. Phillips’s amendment requires the Director of the Peace Corps to report to Congress on their plans to resume operations after the coronavirus pandemic. Rep. Phillips has advocated for Peace Corps volunteers, introducing two bills: H.R. 6853, the UNITE Act of 2020, and H.R. 6833, the Utilizing and Supporting Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers Act.
- Modernizing Congressional Oversight: Congress regularly requests hundreds of reports from the Department of Defense (DoD), but the system for tracking these reports is outdated. Reports are critical to rooting our inefficiencies and preventing fraud, waste, and misuse of taxpayer funds. Phillips’s bipartisan amendment requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze the DoD process for responding to congressional reporting requirements and give suggestions for improving this process.
- Preventing Global Atrocities: Phillips worked with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to ensure the U.S. plays a role in preventing global atrocities for generations to come. This amendment expands on the Global Fragility Act and the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, mandates the use of the Atrocity Prevention Framework, and requires the State Department to report on their efforts to prevent atrocities.
- Training Our Military for 21st Century Warfare: As war becomes increasingly complex, and as terrorists and non-state actors continue to pose an increasing threat, we must adapt and learn from recent lessons. Phillips’s bipartisan amendment directs the Department of Defense to brief Congress on how officers are trained in irregular warfare.