Rep. Cisneros Secures CA-39 Priorities in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

December 12, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House-Senate NDAA conference committee, released the following statement after voting in support of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The annual NDAA authorizes funding for Department of Defense (DoD) and involves millions of military and civilian personnel, thousands of facilities, and commands located around the world.

“As a Navy veteran and a member of the House-Senate NDAA conference committee, I’m proud to have played a role in crafting the bipartisan NDAA and invest in our federal employees, our military families, and our national security,” said Rep. Cisneros. “No one should have to choose between their job and taking care of their family, and I’m pleased the NDAA includes paid parental leave for our federal employees. I’m also incredibly proud that the NDAA contains several of my provisions to promote military health, honor our commitment to servicemembers and their families seeking citizenship, and increase the diversity of our armed forces. This legislation outlines a national defense policy that reflects our values, protects our nation, and provides the resources our servicemembers need to do their jobs.”


Paid Parental Leave

“As the father of two young boys, I know how important it is for parents to be present in our children’s lives,” said Rep. Cisneros. “We need to support working moms and dads and ensure they never have to choose between long hours at work or taking care of their children. I’m glad that the NDAA invests in our federal workers and provides them with long overdue paid parental leave.”

The NDAA provides federal employees with 12 weeks paid parental leave in the case of birth, adoption, or fostering. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer, but federal workers currently have no guaranteed access to paid family or medical leave. Rep. Cisneros is a co-sponsor of both H.R. 1534, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, and H.R. 1185, the FAMILY Act.

Repeal of the Widow’s Tax

“After losing a loved one who makes the ultimate sacrifice for our country, the last thing a military spouse should have to worry about is added taxes,” said Rep. Cisneros. “I’m glad the NDAA includes a common-sense fix that corrects this injustice in our tax code and ensures surviving spouses receive the full benefits they deserve. Our military families deserve our steadfast support and deepest gratitude.”

When a servicemember makes the ultimate sacrifice for our country, their spouse receives annuity payments from both the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD).  The VA program, called the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program, supports the military families of servicemembers who lost their lives in the line of duty. The DoD’s plan, called the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), is an insurance plan that servicemembers pay into with monthly premiums. Under current law, the family’s SBP payment is reduced, dollar for dollar, by the DIC payment. The FY20 NDAA repeals this reduction over a three year phase in, allowing surviving families to collect both payments in full. Rep. Cisneros is a co-sponsor of H.R. 553, the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act.

Expands Veteran Women’s Health Transition Training Pilot Program 

“Many servicewomen face unique issues related to their transition to civilian life that go unaddressed,” said Rep. Cisneros. “The NDAA includes my legislation that will help ensure transitioning servicewomen are aware of the health services available to them, including eligibility for gender-specific services and mental health programs. We need to make it easier for our servicemembers to receive the care they need and deserve, and I’ll continue to work to ensure that our government is committed to serving those who have served us.”

The FY20 NDAA incorporates legislation introduced by Rep. Cisneros and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan that directs DoD to encourage female servicemembers separating or retiring from the Armed Forces to participate in the Women’s Health Transition Training Program which informs women about the services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and offers guidance through the process. Rep. Cisneros also introduced legislation that passed the House earlier this year to require the VA to enhance the program for more servicewomen.

Studies have shown that women veterans do not connect with the VA until an average of 2.7 years post military service or until health issues have manifested, contributing to higher rates of mental health issues. The promising pilot program run by the Air Force and the VA aims to increase transitioning servicewomen’s knowledge of the VHA health care system, enrollment process, and eligibility for gender-specific services. 

Reform of the Feres Doctrine, Enabling Medical Malpractice Claims 

Under current law, servicemembers on active duty who are victims of medical malpractice in a Military Treatment Facility are prevented from filing claims for personal injury or death. The FY20 NDAA creates a pathway for a servicemember to file a claim for themselves or a family member in the case of medical malpractice providing our servicemembers an opportunity to seek justice.  As Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, Rep. Cisneros participated in a hearing on the need to reform the Feres Doctrine, where he highlighted the insufficiencies in the current compensation programs available for servicemembers who are victims of medical malpractice.

Prohibits Involuntary Separation of Servicemembers Covered Under DACA or TPS

Language in the FY20 NDAA prohibits a servicemember who is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from being involuntarily separated from the military and requires that a veterans military service be considered in any determination for removal proceedings. 

Support for Servicemembers Seeking U.S. Citizenship

The FY20 NDAA requires the Department to provide counseling to servicemembers who are not citizens on how to apply as well as inclusion of questions on the pre-separation counseling checklist on immigration status to ensure those leaving the military know how to apply for citizenship. Rep. Cisneros wrote a letter signed by 46 other Members of Congress seeking answers regarding Department of Defense (DoD) policy on the process for non-citizen servicemembers seeking naturalization and how DHS, specifically the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), evaluates servicemember applications for naturalization.

Enabling Non-Citizen Family Members of Servicemembers to Remain in the United States 

“Families belong together, especially the families of our active-duty servicemembers who serve overseas,” said Rep. Cisneros. “We need to move forward with common-sense fixes to our immigration policy to keep military families together and strengthen the link between service and citizenship. I’m glad the NDAA includes language I introduced to preserve the Parole in Place program and provide much-needed certainty to military families and uphold our American values.”

Language in the FY20 NDAA requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to consider whether granting a request for parole in place from a member of the Armed Forces for a family member would enable military family unity that would constitute a significant public benefit. The Parole in Place (PIP) program enables the Department of Homeland Security, using discretionary legal authority, to grant parole in one-year increments to non-citizen parents, children, spouses, and widow or widowers of servicemembers and veterans who were not dishonorably discharged. Rep. Cisneros introduced the Military Family Parole in Place Act, which would protect the family of veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces from the threat of deportation and amend the Immigration and Nationality Act and preserve the PIP program.

Requires a New Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion

“The diversity of our Armed Forces is a reflection of the diversity of our nation, and it’s critical that diversity is also reflected in our leadership ranks,” said Rep. Cisneros. “As a Navy veteran and a Latino, I can speak from personal experience. I believe that preserving and promoting diversity across our military, including enlisted personnel and the officer corps, supports creative problem solving and decision making. More importantly, a diverse military force reflects our values as a democratic society, improving public perception and trust in our armed forces.”

As the Department of Defense has acknowledged, “diversity is a strategic imperative, critical to mission readiness and accomplishment, and a leadership requirement.” Unfortunately, today the diversity rates in the military, particularly in the officer ranks, is lacking. The FY20 NDAA includes Rep. Cisneros’ provision that requires the Secretary of Defense to update and implement the Department of Defense Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. Rep. Cisneros also co-led a bicameral letter to the Chairpersons and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees urging them to promote diversity and inclusion within the Department of Defense (DoD).

Integration of Marine Corps Basic Training

The Marine Corps is the only remaining military service that does not conduct gender integrated basic training.  The FY20 NDAA includes an amendment supported by Rep. Cisneros that  directs the Marine Corps to gender integrate basic training at Parris Island within five years and San Diego within eight years.

Support for World Language Study in Eligible Local Schools 

Rep. Cisneros supported an amendment to the FY20 NDAA that enables the Secretary of Defense to provide support for the establishment, improvement, or expansion of world language study for elementary school and secondary school students at institutions that host a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or DoD Education Activity institutions. 

Funding Increase for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority Serving Institutions 

Currently, minority institutions like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) receive less than one half of one percent of all DoD science and engineering funding. The FY20 NDAA includes legislation Rep. Anthony Brown and Rep. Cisneros co-introduced, the Harnessing Opportunity to Maximize Expansion, Capture, and Organization of Minority Innovation in the Next Generation of Research Act (HOMECOMING Act) to increase the funding line for research programs at HBCUs and other minority serving institutions to approximately $46.7 million. 

Comprehensive Mental Healthcare Policy

This provision requires the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive mental health policy that looks at the availability of mental health services for servicemembers and the effectiveness in how these services are delivered. Previously, Rep. Cisneros sent Acting Secretary Shanahan (DoD) and Secretary Wilkie (VA) a bipartisan letter to express his concerns with the suicide epidemic affecting servicemembers and veterans and to ask for clarity regarding the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to respond to this crisis. At a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Cisneros spoke with Secretary Wilkie about his concerns that there are veterans and servicemembers who may simply not be aware of mental healthcare services available to them.

Improves Protections for Military Families in Privatized Military Housing

“Our military families make a commitment to our country, and we owe it to them to improve their quality of life,” said Rep. Cisneros. “Investment on military construction and family housing has plummeted over the decade, and servicemembers defending our nation should never have to worry about the well-being of their families. I’m glad the NDAA includes needed protections and investments in housing for our military families.”

The FY20 NDAA adopts numerous provisions that reform the oversight and management of military family housing and establish rights and responsibilities of military family housing landlords and tenants. Specifically, Rep. Cisneros helped secure language that prohibits the use of non disclosure agreements; authorizes an additional $140.8 million to hire additional civilian personnel to improve oversight and management of military family housing; creates a public database for complaints related to military housing; and requires the Department of Defense to develop a health and safety hazard assessment tool for housing and provide a summary report to potential occupants.

Improves Protections for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Survivors 

“Sexual assault in the military is unacceptable and needs to be addressed immediately,” said Rep. Cisneros. “We have a responsibility to our servicemembers to ensure that sexual allegations are properly investigated and prosecuted, and that survivors’ rights are enforced. We must strive to change the culture at all levels of our military and provide justice to all our servicemembers.”

The FY20 NDAA includes several provisions that improve protections for sexual assault survivors. The legislation includes Rep. Cisneros’ Prevention of Sexual Assault in Armed Forces Act, which requires the establishment of a Defense Advisory Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct. The FY20 NDAA also improves and expands Special Victims Counsel authorities to provide additional training for counsels and additional advice for survivors, and requires improved communication between military commanders, military investigative authorities, and civilian authorities regarding protective orders. Additionally, the FY20 NDAA includes an amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Cisneros that requires the DoD to establish a program by 2020 to provide legal counsel to domestic violence victims and to report to Congress on how they will structure and implement the program.

Addresses Civilian Casualties

Two key provisions in the FY20 NDAA address civilian casualties. First, an amendment Rep. Cisneros successfully secured in the legislation directs a two year reporting requirement to the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense to submit a coordinated, corroborated report on civilian casualties resulting from U.S. strikes against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities. The second provision Rep. Cisneros advocated for directs an independent study of DoD standards, processes, procedures, and policy relating to the accounting, tracking, and reporting of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations. 

Responding to the Threat of Climate Change

The FY20 NDAA addresses and responds to the threat of climate change in a number of ways. Rep. Cisneros called for language in the NDAA to require the Department to plan for the effects of climate changes in planning for and constructing new military facilities. DoD must now develop installation master plans that assess climate vulnerabilities and plan for how to mitigate climate risks.  The NDAA also authorizes $100 million for the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI), which supports land conservation efforts in cooperation with local communities to prevent incompatible development around military bases and ranges. Additionally, it authorizes $283 million for military construction projects that improve energy resiliency or energy conservation efforts at a military installation.