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Kaine Secures Wins for Virginia, Reforms to Address Servicemember Mental Health in 2024 Defense Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), released the following statement after SASC passed the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes various provisions secured and supported by Kaine to benefit Virginia’s servicemembers and defense community, such as reforms to improve access to mental health care and support Virginia’s shipbuilding industry:

“Virginia is more connected to America’s military than any other state. That’s why one of my top priorities every year is to listen to our servicemembers and defense community, so I can best advocate for them and our national security through my position on the Senate Armed Services Committee when we write the annual defense bill. This year, I’m glad to have worked with my colleagues on the committee to strengthen servicemembers’ access to mental health care and help ensure that our Navy and Marine Corps have the ships they need to protect our nation. I also worked to include my bipartisan legislation to direct the Pentagon to develop a fentanyl-specific counter-drug strategy, and was proud to support pay raises for our servicemembers. I look forward to getting this bill to the Senate floor and signed into law later this year.”

Kaine advocated for many priorities that were ultimately adopted in the final bill, including:

Mental Health:

  • Expands mental health counseling services to servicemembers and dependents regardless of their location, making it easier for servicemembers to access mental health care more quickly.
  • Following the deaths by suicide of multiple limited duty service members in Virginia, the legislation includes provisions that require the Department of Defense to provide Congress with a report regarding the services’ limited duty processes in order to improve understanding of and identify ways to improve support and mental health resources for limited duty servicemembers.
  • Encourages a comprehensive review of the Navy’s efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of death by suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation in commands and organizations within the Navy that have not been reviewed by other studies.
  • Provides career flexibility for the services’ mental health workforce to increase retention.
  • Requires department assessment on perinatal mental health services for servicemembers.
  • Requires department assessment on the rates of opioid prescriptions to servicemembers.
  • Provides the authority to allow servicemembers E-6 and below without dependents to collect a Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) and not live aboard the ship during maintenance periods.
  • Makes mental health care more accessible and affordable for beneficiaries in the active duty family members category and TRICARE Young Adult program, by waiving cost sharing requirements for the first three outpatient mental health visits each year.
  • Directs a review and report on access to resources and services related to mental health for students of Department of Defense Education Activity Schools.
  • Creates a program to provide intensive outpatient treatment for servicemembers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and co-occurring disorders related to military sexual trauma, to be carried out through partnerships with public, private, and non-profit health organizations.

Shipbuilding: Authorizes investments to help meet the congressionally mandated requirement to have 31 operational amphibious warfare ships for the Navy and Marine Corps, by restoring funding for LPD-33 and strengthening oversight of the Navy’s shipbuilding plan.

Tackling Fentanyl: Includes Kaine’s bipartisan Disrupt Fentanyl Trafficking Act to direct increased federal attention to fentanyl trafficking by utilizing Pentagon tools like counter-drug intelligence and involving Mexico as an active partner to combat this crisis and disrupt Mexican cartel activity.

Pay Raises: Authorizes funding to support a 5.2 percent pay raise for both military servicemembers and the DOD civilian workforce. Requires a review of military pay rates and the submission of a proposal for a comprehensive military pay table reauthorization.

Military Construction:

  • Includes over $590M for MILCON in Virginia
  • $109M for Maritime Surveillance System Facility at Dam Neck Annex
  • $35M for Child Development Center at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story
  • $37M for Water Treatment Plant at Marine Corps Base Quantico
  • $154M for Child Development Center, MQ-25 Facilities, and a submarine pier at Naval Station Norfolk
  • $46M for weapons magazines at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown
  • $81M for Drydock Saltwater System at Norfolk Naval Shipyard
  • $25M for Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters annex at Fort Belvoir
  • $61M for Special Operations Forces Seal Delivery Vehicle Team 2 Operations Support Facility at JEB Little Creek-Ft Story
  • $30M for pedestrian access at the Pentagon
  • $12M for Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar support facilities at Dam Neck

Military Families: Expands servicemember eligibility to receive reimbursement for qualified spouse relicensing or business costs when the servicemember transfers from active duty to the reserves—making it easier for military spouses to continue their careers. Requires a pilot program to assess the effectiveness of increasing compensation for employees of Department of Defense Child Development Centers in improving the ability to recruit and retain providers. 

Military Housing: Authorizes improvements to the quality and oversight of military enlisted barracks, including the replacement of substandard barracks. Requires that enlisted housing meets the same basic standards as all other military housing. Improves the calculation of BAH rates with respect to junior enlisted members, by delinking that calculation from specific housing types and provides additional flexibility to ensure equitable housing rates can be calculated in markets with limited housing inventory.

Partners and Allies: Strengthens the United States’ ability to partner with Australia and the United Kingdom in the implementation of the AUKUS agreement, in which Australia will purchase up to five U.S. Virginia-class submarines. Simultaneously improves acquisition processes, expands defense industrial base capacity, and supports workforce development initiatives. Because Virginia-class submarines are partially built in Newport News, these provisions create opportunity for further job creation and economic growth in Hampton Roads.

The next step for the legislation is a vote before the full Senate.