Congressional delegation pushes to restore promised time off.
Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division of the National Guard recently returned from serving in Kuwait. Jayden Pholman,20 months and her sister Payton, six months, greeted their dad Staff Sgt. Alex Pohlman after he served a year in Kuwait.
It shouldn't take an act of Congress to undo a bureaucratic mistake that reduced soldiers' paid time off once they arrived back home. But it did, and it's a credit to Minnesota that its entire congressional delegation led the legislative charge for change.
Republican Rep. John Kline and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in particular, have displayed strong leadership since the Pentagon snafu surfaced last fall involving a program designed to ease tired, stressed military personnel back into everyday life.
Their bipartisan teamwork was a key ingredient in this week's passage of legislation in the U.S. House and Senate that will restore time-off benefits for about 49,000 military personnel across the nation, including about 2,000 in Minnesota.
"Minnesota has always cared for our troops. This is another example,'' said Klobuchar on Thursday shortly after her bill cleared the Senate. Kline's bill went through the House on Tuesday. Every other member of Minnesota's congressional delegation signed on as cosponsors to the legislation.
Troops affected by this ill-advised policy change are returning from deployments every day. Any further delay means that more of them are caught up in this paid-leave mess and will need to have their situations straightened out retroactively.
Kline and Klobuchar have urged President Obama to move expeditiously, even if it means foregoing a bill-signing ceremony. Arranging one could have taken five to 10 days. While both are up for reelection this fall and could have benefited from the White House hobnobbing and bipartisan photo opportunity, they recognized it was more important for the bill to be signed into law as soon as possible.
Congress deserves thanks for addressing this issue, but it's still troubling that it had to get involved. The Pentagon needs to update its personnel policies from time to time.
But this change was blatantly unfair to deployed troops. Many of them, such as Minnesota's Red Bulls, have served multiple or extended stints overseas.
What the Pentagon did is send them abroad with one set of rules about paid time off. Mid-deployment, it announced a new policy with reduced benefits.
Military officials should have realized that they'd made a mistake and were reneging on a promise to troops. Those currently deployed should have been "grandfathered" into the new policy and given the benefits they'd been told they would earn.
The Pentagon still hasn't explained why it changed the policy. Department of Defense officials on Thursday declined an editorial writer's request for further details. Given national concerns about veterans' post-traumatic stress disorder and their difficulty finding jobs, defense officials should have to make a very strong public case for reducing paid, postdeployment leave.
This time cushion is vital to veterans and their families and is a much-deserved investment in their future. Matthew Hite of the Minnesota National Guard recently returned from 10 months in Kuwait after previously serving in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
He lost 26 days of paid leave under the policy change. When it's restored, he hopes to spend it playing catch in Maplewood with his 7-year-old son, Charles, and maybe visiting Disneyland. Said Hite: "I just want the most time possible to spend with him.''
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