WASHINGTON – As the Senate continues to negotiate the nation’s annual defense bill, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) is championing a set of measures to better support Virginia’s military families. If included in the final version of the bill and signed into law, these measures could help tackle food insecurity among members of the military and their families, allow for greater accountability and oversight over military housing, and pause proposed restructuring of the military health system until the proposal’s impact on servicemembers can be fully assessed.
“The brave men and women who serve in our military should never have to worry about putting food on the table, about having a safe place to live, or about being able to access the timely and quality health care they have earned,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce these amendments to our nation’s annual defense bill to further protect military families in Virginia and around the country.”
To combat food insecurity in the military, Sen. Warner is pushing for an amendment that would direct the Secretary of Defense to designate an existing senior official as the lead for addressing food insecurity in the military and for coordinating with other relevant agencies. Another Warner amendment would direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent review of an upcoming Department of Defense study on food insecurity, to ensure the Department is appropriately addressing the needs of servicemembers and their families, and to provide independent analysis of proposed Department action. A third amendment championed by Sen. Warner would create a limited, nationwide pilot program, through which commissaries could offer food boxes full of fresh produce to servicemembers facing food insecurity, free of charge.
These amendments come amid a 2021 survey by the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), which found that one in five respondents reported experiencing food insecurity – a spike from one in eight in 2019.
Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for addressing food insecurity – especially among military families. He is a lead cosponsor of the Military Hunger Prevention Act, and in March, he joined Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in urging the Biden administration to develop concrete steps to tackle the alarming rate of food insecurity among military families. Sen. Warner is also the author of the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act – bills to tackle the food security gap in the U.S. Additionally, Sen. Warner supported the passage of the American Rescue Plan, which extended a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through September 30, 2021.
To improve housing conditions for servicemembers and their families, Sen. Warner also introduced two amendments that would create more transparency and allow for greater accountability around privatized military housing. One amendment would direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to prepare a report for Congress that outlines the ways in which tenants are making use of recent housing reforms. Specifically, this report would detail the degree to which tenants are utilizing certain new protections and tools from the Warner-championed Tenant Bill of Rights, as well as a provision that allows tenants to access an analysis of the metrics that determine any performance incentive paid to their privatized housing provider. A separate amendment would require that this analysis be posted online, as it’s currently only available to tenants who request it from their installation’s housing office. Allowing for the publication of this data would help increase accountability and inform future action by Congress.
Sen. Warner has fiercely advocated for and secured a number of reforms to privatized military housing over the years, in response to the well-documented health hazards in military homes across the country. He successfully secured large portions of his military housing legislation in the FY20 NDAA, and subsequently passed provisions in the FY21 NDAA to improve military housing metrics.
To protect access to timely and quality health care for servicemembers, Sen. Warner has also introduced an amendment to pause the proposed restructuring and realignment of Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) – a proposal that would transition some servicemembers from receiving care at MTFs, to receiving care from community providers. Sen. Warner’s amendment would pause this restructuring for one year following the NDAA’s passage, and require a U.S. Government Accountability Office assessment of the proposed cuts. This assessment would help provide a better picture of the proposal’s impact on servicemembers, ensuring that they are able to continue accessing needed care, especially in light of added pandemic demands.