SERVING THOSE WHO ANSWER THE CALL
The recent news that untold thousands of Reservists and members of the National Guard will have their tours of duty extended to 12 months reminds us once again of the tremendous sacrifice these brave men and women are making to protect the rights and liberties you and I enjoy.
Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, roughly 300,000 Guard and Reserve troops have been activated. These volunteers exemplify the concepts of service and sacrifice. They give their time, their talent, and sometimes their lives to protect our nation. They willingly leave their homes, families and businesses to travel thousands of miles to stand in harm's way. Some have been rotated home, back to the lives they left suspended, but thousands of others remain in Iraq, Kuwait, and elsewhere. Now they, like those who will be activated in the weeks and months to come, are facing an even longer commitment as they serve their country.
While we at home and in the rest of the world wait, so do the deployed service members and those who will soon join them. As we wait to see whether democracy will take root in Iraq, as we wait to see what role the global community will play, as we wait to see how the price of the war in Iraq will be paid, they also wait to see if their country will commit to addressing their needs while they are protecting the needs, rights and liberties of their fellow Americans.
There are some simple steps Congress can take to ease the burden on our National Guard and Reserves, the "citizen-soldiers" who are such a vital part of our military.
One example is the Foreign and Armed Services Tax Fairness Act, which would help deployed service members comply with the ownership and use requirements of a homeowners capital gains tax exemption enacted in 1997. The bill has languished in Congress for far too long; enacting it would be one quick way to help some of our bravest citizens participate in our nation's prosperity through homeownership.
Another would be to amend Title 10 of the U.S. Code to make legal assistance for members of our armed forces, National Guard and Reserves an entitlement, rather than just a benefit provided "subject to the availability of legal staff resources."
The military has made great strides in preparing soldiers to live healthy, safe, and socially responsible lives. Physical fitness tests, medical and dental examinations, and occupational, safety, and health instruction are all part of their regimen, and they are taught fiscal accountability. But what about their "legal health?" Regular legal checkups to ensure that those who need wills and powers of attorney have them, or that a service member's wishes concerning life support are explicit and written, should become as integrated into military life as are medical and dental checkups. Guaranteeing access to military legal assistance lawyers would be an important step toward making this a reality.
Finally, Congress should enact the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act. This legislation-which the House of Representatives approved in May, but has not yet been passed by the Senate-would update and modernize the current Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act by offering broader and more consistent protections for the jobs and financial resources of those who answer America's call, very often to the detriment of their careers.
Through these measures,
Congress could help ease the lives of the men and women who protect us
all. It is, I submit, the least they deserve.