The National Defense Bill – protecting jobs and people across Maine

By U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine

For more than 60 years, Congress has passed the National Defense Authorization Act — an annual bill that prioritizes America’s national security interests at home — with strong bipartisan support. It’s one of the most meaningful pieces of legislation I work on in the Senate Armed Services Committee, but this bill is also very important for us here at home in Maine. Especially for what we are facing now … let me explain.

U.S. Sen Angus King, I-Maine

Last fall, the entire Maine community was shocked when a gunman took the lives of 18 innocent people at a bowling alley and local restaurant in Lewiston. It was absolutely devastating then, and today, we are still working to pick up the pieces and process the pain. However, as we continue to grieve, we must do everything in our power to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. One approach was to closer study and track the neurology of our men and women who enter the Armed Forces; the man who took these innocent lives had struggled with brain trauma from repeated exposure to blasts and explosions. That’s why I worked with my committee colleagues to include the bipartisan Blast Overpressure Safety Act that I co-sponsored with the other members of the Maine Delegation. This legislation aims to better protect servicemembers from blast exposure and address traumatic brain injuries, which are considered the “signature wound” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also includes funding for the Special Operations Brain Health and Trauma Program, which provides veterans and servicemembers who served in special operations roles the brain health care and support they need. Through these inclusions, we can not only help our military personnel and veterans as they recover from service, but we can also protect our communities from horrible tragedies like the one in Lewiston.

In addition to keeping our servicemembers healthy, this legislation also includes a 4.5 percent pay increase for military servicemembers and a 2 percent pay increase for civilian personnel. Investing in our people is not just good for national security, but also for our neighbors and friends in the military and supporting roles who will be more comfortable living, working, and spending in Maine. It’s a win-win: a patriotic investment in our military and a sparkplug for our local economy.

Speaking of investing in our people and our local economy, this bill also aids University of Maine-driven research and development in soil stabilization and infrastructure resiliency, textile developments, and digital manufacturing. The bill authorizes funding for Pratt and Whitney built engines and provides important oversight of the Defense Department of jet engine programs. The bill supports small and large businesses across the state from hypersonics to composites and metal alloys like tungsten, and it further stresses the importance of Defense Industrial Alliances such as the Maine Defense Industrial Alliance that was launched last year.

Maine’s veterans are also assisted through this legislation. I have frequently heard from veterans how difficult the transition can be from active duty to veteran status, so we made sure the Welcome Home Veterans Act was included to ensure service members are better connected to their state veterans agencies as they begin to transition out of active duty. Additionally, the Armed Services Committee remained focused on improving the Transition Assistance Program and additional measures to improve veteran participation and training.

Lastly, I would be remiss to not mention our incredible shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works who will greatly benefit from this year’s defense bill. At my urging, we secured $1.43 billion for BIW to build a third Naval destroyer. It also fully supports improvements at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. This will help ensure job continuity and stability for all those in Maine who rely on the continued success of our remarkable shipyards.

Bottom line: not only is the National Defense Authorization Act a patriotic bill to strengthen America at home and abroad, but it is also a source of state pride for Maine. I hope my colleagues in the Senate and House move swiftly to send the bill to the President’s desk.

King is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee

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