Lincoln: Final Defense Authorization Bill Critical for Arkansas’s Troops, Military Families, and Veterans

Final bill includes Lincoln provision to expand National Guard Youth ChalleNGe to new sites

Washington – U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) today said the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act is critical for Arkansas’s troops, military families, and veterans.

“Throughout my career in the United States Senate, I have fought to ensure our nation’s military service members, veterans, and their families receive the benefits and care they have earned and certainly deserve,” Lincoln said.  “I am proud that this bipartisan legislation provides support for our troops, our military families and our veterans.  Among other provisions, the bill authorizes a 3.4 percent across the board pay raise for military personnel, increases funding for programs such as the Homeowners Assistance Program which provides relief to military homeowners, and expands TRICARE eligibility to more military retirees.

“This legislation also provides our men and women in uniform with the resources and equipment they need to defend our nation and complete their missions abroad.  It also makes needed investments in new technologies, programs and initiatives that allow our armed forces to better meet our current and future national security threats.  Included in the bill was almost $7 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicles for deployment in Afghanistan, as well as increased funds to expand the size of our ground forces and for programs to increase our military readiness.”

Lincoln cosponsored a number of the bill’s amendments on behalf of service members, veterans and their families. Among these amendments, which were included in the final defense authorization bill, were provisions to freeze TRICARE inpatient co-payment increases and increase the reimbursement eligibility for military families to cover the cost of traveling to visit wounded loved ones. Other provisions would reduce barriers to absentee voting for military personnel and overseas voters and improve upon the mental health care provided to our servicemembers.

In addition, Lincoln’s amendment to enable the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program to expand to new sites and make a difference in the lives of more young people across the nation was included in the final bill.

Lincoln’s amendment mirrors legislation she introduced earlier this year.  Currently, the federal government pays for 60 percent of a state’s Youth ChalleNGe operating costs, with states covering the remaining 40 percent. Lincoln’s amendment changes the federal government’s cost-share ratio from 60 to 75 percent, decreasing the cost for states to 25 percent.

“Each year, up to 160 teens benefit from Arkansas’s National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, and that number could be even higher with the help of this provision,” said Lincoln “I’ve seen first-hand how Arkansas’s program at Camp Robinson helps at-risk youth become more productive, employed, law-abiding citizens. Since its inception, more than 85,000 young men and women have graduated from the program nationwide and have received their high school degree.  Nearly 80 percent have gone to college, earned productive jobs, or joined the military.
I’m proud to support this important initiative for Arkansas and other states across the nation.”

In May, Lincoln visited Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark. to highlight the Arkansas National Guard program’s positive impact on the lives of Arkansas teens.  In 2007, Lincoln attended the graduation of a class in Arkansas.