As our country fights two foreign wars and maintains the ability to project military power around the globe, defense spending composes a major portion of the federal budget. I am determined to give our service-members the tools they need to perform their missions. Thousands of New Yorkers work in manufacturing and research positions that contribute greatly to our military capacity. With this in mind, I believe that we have to decide upon a level of defense spending that is appropriate in light of recent shocks to our economy. Maintaining our national security is a primary mission of the federal government, but social programs cannot make all the sacrifices.
One of my main priorities in this area is ensuring the proper treatment of service-members and their families. I take a strong interest in issues related to military housing, veterans benefits and the military healthcare system. At the end of the 111th Congress, I proudly voted to repeal the legal underpinnings of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. With its elimination, thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will no longer have to choose between honesty to themselves and service to their country. Additionally, I introduced legislation that would lower the burdensome threshold that veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have to meet to receive treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Another one of my priorities is protecting educational benefits for our nation’s veterans. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008
, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, significantly expanded the educational opportunities for veterans by helping pay for their tuition. Students could receive a tuition benefit up to the highest amount charged by a public university in their state, which varied widely from state to state. This resulted in disparities in the amount of tuition benefit that veterans received, with some students receiving less than ten thousand dollars per year in tuition. This lead me to introduce, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010, which replaced that provision with a nation-wide maximum reimbursement rate of $17,500 for private institutions, scheduled to take effect in August 2011 that made scholarships more equitable for veterans across the country. Recently, the House of Representatives passed their version of this legislation that would protect tuition benefits for Upstate New York veterans that are set to be drastically reduced in August, and I am looking forward to Senate action on my version of this bill in the very near future.
Growing NY’s defense industry is priority for me, which is why in 2010 I successfully worked to include language in a Senate bill that will open up competition for the Army‘s small arms contracts to other U.S. manufacturers. The legislation opened up the Army‘s small arms contracts to domestic producers across the country like the Ilion, New York based Remington. I spearheaded work with the United States Army to award Remington a Firm Fixed Price contract to upgrade up to 3,600 M24 rifles, known as Sniper Weapon Systems. The contract is for a five (5) year period and has a guaranteed minimum value of $192,000, with a potential value of up to $28.2 million. This award followed an extensive research and development effort by Remington to produce the most outstanding weapon to compete in a full and open competition by the Army in 2010 for a defined requirement to enhance Army sniper capabilities. I supported this operational need and led the effort in congress to ensure funding for the M24 upgrade program in both 2009 and 2010.
When circumstances emerge that serve to potentially harm New Yorkers, I work hard to make sure that our jobs are protected and our residents have the job security they deserve. When learning that Israel Aerospace (IAI) Industries announced plans to liquidate assets at Empire Aero, I worked to keep the Empire Aero Center open and its 200 workers employed. Empire Aero maintains and repairs planes of all types including military and commercial. Many of the affected workers are highly-skilled FAA licensed mechanics. With jobs as my number one priority, I was successful in helping to locate a buyer and supported the financial arrangement that kept the jobs in Oneida County.
Finally, I have long made the case that a new Veteran‘s cemetery is critically needed in Western New York. After numerous calls to the VA to designate a cemetery in that region, the VA finally agreed to build a much deserved Veterans Cemetery in Buffalo. I fought hard to ensure that funding was allocated in the 2010 President‘s budget to fund this important project - because we can never do too much - for those who have sacrificed everything for our freedom and security.