Members of the military are getting a raise in 2020 and a new Space Corps
Debate over coronavirus relief heated up Friday. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

    WASHINGTON. D.C. — President Donald Trump signed a defense funding bill on Friday that will provide service members a raise in salary, better housing conditions and establish a new branch of the military.

    Amidst the contention on Capitol Hill over the impeachment proceedings, the Armed Services committees in the House and Senate passed a final compromise reached after months of negotiations.

    The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a yearly law that spells out how much money Congress will appropriate for use by the military. Bay Area Congressmembers Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, Eric Swalwell and Jackie Speier all voted yes on the conference report last week, but Fremont Congressman Ro Khanna and Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee voted against it. Khanna’s proposed amendment to prohibit the use of military force against Iran without congressional approval did not make it into the bill.

    Plus, Khanna had proposed an amendment to withdraw U.S. funding for Saudi Arabia’s fighting with Houthi rebels in Yemen — but that measure was also excluded. In a joint statement with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Khanna condemned the omission of his amendments and explained why he was voting against the NDAA.

    “Every member of Congress should vote against this measure. There is no pressing reason for Congress to shower Trump, his Saudi friends, and the Pentagon contractors of the military-industrial complex with this $738-billion taxpayer giveaway right now,” read the statement.

    Trump called the NDAA “an all time record in the history of our country.”

    “That’s the highest amount we’ve ever spent on our military,” Trump said during the signing ceremony at Joint Base Andrews.

    General John ‘Jay’ Raymond is the first U.S. Chief of Space Operations. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

    Service members will see their base salary increase by 3.1 percent, the largest increase in a decade. And all federal employees will be able to take twelve weeks of paid parental leave starting October 1, 2020.

    But the military isn’t just getting more money in 2020 — it’s expanding to another atmosphere.

    “Space is the world’s newest war-fighting domain,” Trump said. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital.”

    The United States Space Force will be expected to deter aggression, protect U.S. interests in space, and control what the president calls “the ultimate high ground.”

    Trump has named General Jay Raymond as Chief of Space Operations. General Raymond will report to the Secretary of the Air Force and the space force operations will be staffed by members of the Air Force. According to the NDAA, the Air Force has 18 months to create the Space Force and will have to provide Congress with briefings every 60 days on the progress of its implementation.

    But while critics highlight the fact that the spending bill does not limit the amount of money that can be re-directed to build a wall at our southern border, the bill does include something that may help undocumented family members related to someone in the military.

    Until now, the Department of Homeland Security has issued “parole in place” to family members of individuals serving in the military on a case by case basis. The parole in place policy allows undocumented family members of those who are in the Armed Forces the right to live in the U.S. and qualify for certain benefits — an effort to prevent the separation of military families.

    Congressman Mark Takano (CA-41) introduced an amendment that would mandate that DHS consider close family members eligible for parole in place as a way to preserve the military’s objective of family unity.

    Priya Murthy, the policy and advocacy director at SIREN, a San Jose immigrant rights group, says the new NDAA will not guarantee family members won’t be deported, but it may help certain family members strengthen their case for protection. David Till, the new director of veteran services for Santa Clara County, agrees.

    “The “Parole in Place” clarifications will provide better understanding and more consistent interpretation of a confusing regulation. This will be beneficial in protecting families of service members,” Till said.

    Another key measure in this latest NDAA is the elimination of what many refer to as the “Widow’s Tax.”

    Surviving family members of service members who die in the line of duty or from a service-related injury or illness are eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But, military retirees are given the option of signing up for an insurance policy with the Department of Defense called the Survivor Benefit Plan. And for years, the benefits have offset each other as the government required the SBP payment be deducted from the compensation owed through the VA. That requirement will be phased out over the next three years.

    Benefits paid out to survivors of deceased service members will increase over the next three years. Photo of Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are about 50,570 veterans in Santa Clara County as of September of 2019.

    “Although there are limited beneficiaries, the value of the benefit and the removal of the red tape is a major gain for grieving widows,” Till said.

    Contact Elizabeth Mendez at [email protected] or follow @izziemae on Twitter.

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