Ensuring a strong national defense and supporting our veterans are two of my priorities in Congress.
In December, after months of strong bipartisan work, the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law.
This commonsense legislation provides much-needed increases in troop pay, improves servicemember mental health services, and increases available funds well over the President’s initial budget request. The bill also provides funding to improve equipment and readiness and I was proud to vote in favor of it.
Included in the bill were several pieces of legislation I authored, including my Alexander Lofgren Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act and my Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Medical Countermeasures Act.
I have spoken about my VIP Act dozens of times and I am incredibly proud to see it become law. This new law gives veterans and Gold Star families free lifetime access to national parks and public federal lands, and also gives active-duty military free annual passes. I look forward to the tremendous mental, physical, and emotional health benefits this bill will give our servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
My DHS Medical Countermeasures Act provides support to the DHS workforce by requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a medical countermeasures program to protect workers in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive attack; or naturally occurring disease outbreaks or pandemics. The brave men and women at DHS put their lives at risk every day; this has been especially true over the last year. My bill becoming law shows that we care about the DHS workforce and understand the vital role they play in keeping our country safe.
There are also several provisions that were extremely important to me that were included, such as language that prevents dishonorable discharge for servicemembers who choose not to be vaccinated, bans taxpayer funds from going to the Taliban, requires an investigation into the Chinese Communist Party’s involvement in the origins of COVID-19, prohibits the federal government from purchasing goods made by Uyghur Muslims in forced labor camps, takes steps toward fixing our broken military justice system, protects the gun rights of lawful veteran gun owners, and prevents women from being required to sign up for the draft.
As a 24-year Army veteran, I was thrilled to see the final version of this vital defense bill overwhelmingly pass the House and Senate and be signed into law.
This is a huge win for our soldiers, our veterans, and our country, and I was proud to vote in support of it.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 24-year Army veteran, and a resident of Ottumwa who currently represents Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.