The House of Representatives recently passed the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act. Two New York congressmen from the Hudson Valley are behind a number of the measures that were included.
Democratic Congressman Antonio Delgado of the 19th district advocated for two provisions that were included in the NDAA.
“I was happy that we were able to get some good stuff in the NDAA, particularly around PFAS. I wanted more. I think there’s still a whole lot more we can do,” says Delgado. “I’m still going to keep working for that maximum contaminant limit that continues to evade us, but it is a priority of mine; but the good news is that we were able to ensure that any manufacturer that uses PFAS has to report, even if the amount in the chemical concoction is less than 1 percent, there’s still a reporting requirement.”
This closes a loophole in a rule the Environmental Protection Agency implemented from last year’s NDAA that exempted manufacturers from reporting their PFAS discharges if the chemical is below 1 percent of a mixture. Delgado also offered his Improving Benefits for Underserved Veterans Act as an amendment to the NDAA, which was included in the final House-passed legislation.
“And we were also able to make sure that we get reports aggregated from the Veterans Affairs agency on who’s receiving benefits based on sex and minority groups, which would help us, particularly given that we see oftentimes a lot of disparities between the benefits received by our male veterans compared to our female veterans,” Delgado says. “And we want to make sure that everybody is equitably accounted for.”
He says this report would provide the Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress with the necessary data to better educate those veterans on their entitled benefits and address any disparities in coverage and benefit usage. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, whose 18th District includes the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has amendments in the NDAA that will strengthen the diversity of and promote inclusion at service academies. One of Maloney’s amendments requires the Department of Defense to establish goals for increasing women and minorities in the military services, including at service academies. Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan is a West Point graduate.
“Even, I think back to my time as a cadet, which was now almost 20 years ago, and the Academy has come a very long way, even in that short time, in advancing diversity and inclusion, but there’s a long way to go, particularly in the officer corps of our armed forces, and so this is a really important step,” says Ryan.
Another Maloney amendment would require the establishment of a mentoring program and career development framework with measurable metrics to increase diversity at U.S. Service Academies. He says West Point has a successful program, which could serve as a model.
This year’s NDAA also includes a provision that will require the Department of Defense to identify, report on a process and change the names of all military bases and infrastructure named for Confederate generals and soldiers, with the process to be completed in one year. The Senate version says three years. President Trump has vowed to veto such a measure. In June, Maloney wrote to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army requesting the removal of all Confederate symbols at West Point. Ryan, an Army veteran, says Maloney’s leadership was critical in having this and diversity provisions included in the NDAA.
“It’s interesting as I reflect back. There were dozens of different places and ways that we honored, between naming barracks, between statues and plaques, and even in just how Confederate generals and officers were spoken about, there were dozens of different ways that we were honoring those who, again, I don’t think deserve to be honored. Now, it’s one thing to study the history; it’s another to choose to honor and venerate one of those individuals,” Ryan says. “And I think about, there was this poster that was hung up in the History Department, and it said something like, much of the history we teach is made by those that we taught here, and it had four pictures on it. I think it was [Douglas] MacArthur; [Dwight] Eisenhower; [Ulysses S.] Grant; and [Robert E.] Lee. And I always, even as a cadet, I found it very bizarre that we would choose to put him [Lee] on that poster. Why not put, for example, or name a barracks after, Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American graduate of the Academy who had to fight against four years of racism and discrimination. I think those are the kind of things that we need to be thinking about and having those conversations about.”
The bill establishes the position of Chief Diversity Officer reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense as well as creating a Chief Diversity Officer in each of the military services reporting directly to the secretary of that service, including the Coast Guard. The bill also requires the Secretary of Defense to establish a Diversity and Inclusion Council.