Official websites use .mil
Secure .mil websites use HTTPS
Good afternoon and welcome to the first Personnel subcommittee hearing of the 118th Congress. I am pleased to welcome all of you here to this hearing to receive testimony on the military and civilian personnel programs at the Department of Defense and the military services in review of the administration's Defense authorization request for fiscal 2024. All three of my brothers served in the military.
So supporting the military and military families means a lot to me, And I am particularly pleased to be chairing my first hearing as an Armed Services Subcommittee chair. I'm honored to chair this subcommittee and I look forward to continuing its long history of bipartisanship and working as a partner with Ranking Member Scott and with all of our members on both sides of the aisle to improve the lives of our service, members of retirees, military families ,and the civilian workforce.
Our annual posture hearing provides the department the opportunity to discuss their personnel policy priorities for the coming year. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force. In today's hearing, I would like to focus on how we welcome young people into the military, how we support families who continue to serve, and how the military contributes to our communities.
The administration's national defense strategy gets it exactly right in prioritizing service members. We must do this to address one of the military's greatest challenges; the ongoing struggle to meet its recruiting goals. Today, only the Marine Corps and the Space Force are meeting their recruiting targets.
Meanwhile, the Army is set to miss its target by tens of thousands of soldiers and the Navy has recently lowered its requirements and standards for many ratings in order to address anticipated shortfalls. The most direct way to address this shortfall is by making sure that we are taking care of military personnel and their families.
This is just as much a readiness issue as our supply of tanks and missiles and material to fight on land and at sea. So where to start? Well, I have a lot of work that I want to propose for this subcommittee, including protecting and enhancing health care, continuing to build on Senator Gillibrand's leadership in addressing sexual assault, and combatting the corrosive impact of the revolving door between senior Pentagon officials and defense contractors and foreign governments.
I also look forward to working with the Readiness Subcommittee to be certain that US military families are not living in unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions. I've done extensive investigative work here and I have worked with other committee members on bipartisan legislation. For today's hearing, I have picked three items to begin with: access to child care, medical debt, and the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC. First, child care.
Accessing child care remains a problem for all families, military and civilian. We must modernize and improve the way that DOD ensures that service members and their families have access to child care. And I am happy to work with any member of the committee, Democrat or Republican, who has good, smart, creative ideas on how to do that.
Second, I want to take a good hard look at medical debt and how it affects both members of the military and civilians. I want to ask specifically about implementation of my amendments, along with Joaquin Castro, to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to provide DOD the authority to waive civilian debts for military hospitals.
A bill that was intended to keep our doctors sharp without sticking patients with big private bills. I won't get to cover it today, but I am also concerned about service members who have TRICARE, but who still get stuck with medical bills they're expected to pay on their own. And finally, I have questions about the Junior Reserve Officers, Training Corps or JROTC, particularly about reports of sexual assault of our children.
We have much to do to better support military families. I look forward to getting to work on these issues and many more. And I will now turn to Ranking Member Scott for his comments to open this hearing. Thank you. Ranking Member Scott.
Thank you, Chairwoman. As this is the first meeting of the personnel subcommittee this -- this Congress, let me begin by saying that I'm very much looking forward to working with Secretary -- Senator Warren, as we continue the bipartisan tradition of the Armed Services Committee and developing the National Defense Authorization Act. I'm on four committees and this is my first subcommittee to be the ranking member.
And I want to say the Armed Services Committee is the one committee that actually works well together and I think we're going to continue to do a great job with the National Defense Authorization Act again this year. Every member here is united in supporting our men and women in uniform and their families.
This subcommittee has a long history of prioritizing the well-being and morale of our service members. I'm eager to be continuing that work as the new ranking member. Today, The military faces, as we all know, a recruiting crisis. If current trends continue, the Army, Navy and Air Force will fail to achieve the recruiting missions this year.
The Army and Navy look like they'll miss the mark by over 10,000 recruits each. Well, this would be the only the third time in history that the force has failed to meet its recruiting mission. This situation is unprecedented in the 50 year history of the Armed -- the all volunteer force and this subcommittee must make it our top priority to do whatever we can to fix it. I'm concerned that in the midst of this challenging recruiting environment, the Navy has decided to lower enlistment standards.
We've seen this approach tried before and it had disastrous results. I'm a Navy veteran myself. I joined at the age of 18. I probably did more swabbing the decks and cleaning the latrines than I did being a radar man. I'm also the son of a World War II veteran who fought -- who was one of 3,000 people that did all four combat jumps with 82nd Airborne.
Also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I know that no job in the military is easy or unimportant. When ships catch fire or in collision, as has happened repeatedly the recent past, every sailor must know how to respond to save lives. When enlistment standards drop below certain levels, we have seen increased morale and discipline problems which are accompanied by lower unit readiness.
These are not acceptable outcomes. I hope to use this hearing to learn more about what the Navy is doing to avoid the mistakes of the past in this area. The good news is that it's difficult as recruiting is right now. Retention levels are generally quite high. That means once people join the military, they tend to like it and want to stay.
Military families, in particular, have higher retention rates than single service members. This is supported by DOD surveys that report married service members with children have the highest levels of satisfaction with the military way of life. So, we need to ask ourselves why is there such a disconnect between recruiting struggles and retention successes.
And what can we do to bridge that gap As we continue working to ensure service members and their families enjoy high quality of life in the military, we need to do more to share their inspiring stories with the rest of the country. Effective use of marketing and advertising must be a priority right -- priority right now and we need to resource it accordingly.
The Department of Defense should also be an advocate for the many benefits that come with military service. For example, we know that veterans have lower unemployment rates and higher rates of homeownership, marriage, educational achievement. Military service sets young men and women on the path to a great life.
We need more people to know that. So, we have major issues facing our military and this subcommittee stands ready to tackle them. That's why I was excited to take the position as ranking member because there are real issues like housing, child care, recruitment and health care that demand our attention. These aren't Republican and Democrat issues.
They're things that this committee has and must continue to work on a bipartisan basis to fix so our military members and their families are taken care of. This committee did this last Congress to better protect against and prevent sexual assault. Working together on these issue -- important issues allows us to best serve those who serve and protect our nation.
That's why I was incredibly disappointed when I finally received Secretary Cisneros's prepared statement and several -- of several witnesses last night, 10 p.m., and found that a major focus of the Pentagon, I'm sure probably at the urge of the White House, was prioritizing DEI, basically cultural war issues.
I've run big companies. I know the importance of ensuring that we have a workplace, whether in the military or elsewhere, where people can come to their jobs without the threat of being disrespected or discriminated against. But when it comes to our armed forces, the top question should be is every person who wants to join solely focused on the mission of intimidating the hell out of our enemies and defeating them if necessary.
It's not about hitting diversity, quotas. It's about being the most lethal military fighting force on the planet because the folks who wear the uniform are war fighters, unapologetically devoted to protecting American values., putting that above all else. Our commanders know this and I'm gravely concerned that this administration is forcing them to move away from that to achieve some diversity metric that isn't based on enhancing the lethal fighting capabilities of the American.
We're equating nice talking points for the administration to tout race and gender instead of fighting power and strength, Do I believe their military should reflect America and be made up of fighters as diverse as places like my home state of Florida? You better believe it. But to assert that diversity quotas and pronoun training are more important than the basic needs of recruitment and retention or caring for the needs of our current force by ensuring proper access to childcare, good housing, and health care is outrageous.
And I think everybody in this room knows that. So look forward to getting to the real issues, solving problems, taking care of our members and their families. That will be my focus as ranking member of this subcommittee. Thank you for each of the witnesses for appearing before the subcommittee today. And I look forward to your testimony.
MAZIE K. HIRONO:
Senator Wicker, I understand you wish to make a statement.
Yes, ma'am, I do and I appreciate that. I had intended to attend this subcommittee hearing to, to talk solely about junior ROTC. But I do have to address the matter that the distinguished ranking member of the subcommittee just raised and that is the submitted statement by the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
I do hope that this statement is not a reflection of the department's priorities because if it is I'm very concerned. We have a military recruiting problem, as the chair mentioned, as the ranking member mentioned. It should be at the top of our list and yet this statement, some 26 pages -- et me make sure I've got it right -- some 26 pages does not get to recruiting until page 20 of the statement.
Instead topics like abortion and diversity equity and inclusion are addressed in those first 20 pages. I don't understand why the department feels that it is necessary to change the culture of the military. By quote, "inculcating diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility DEIA principles across the department efforts." As a veteran, as a ROTC commissioned officer as a -- as a former member of the Air Force Reserve, I can tell you that the United States military has been decades ahead of the rest of our society in inclusion.
And -- and I've said publicly many times, the United States military is the greatest civil rights program in the history of the world. And I'm proud that they've been ahead of our society on that. When some of my colleagues criticize the department for misplaced priorities, Mr. Secretary, I think that's what this concern that I have and the ranking member has are what they're talking about.
Now with regard to junior ROTC in my home state of Mississippi, the program is a pillar in the development of future leaders. Over the years, I've passed legislation to expand the number of JROTC units as a part of the NDAA, increased funding for the program and grow the population of veterans who are eligible to be junior ROTC instructors.
Junior ROTC helps our nation's high schoolers reach more of their full potential to become successful citizens. A RAND Report, a Rand Corporation report found and I quote, "There is consensus that JROTC participation has both academic and non-academic benefits for students," unquote. According to this very comprehensive and scholarly report, most of these benefits go to economically disadvantaged schools and the students of those schools.
In addition to these benefits, the report noted that JROTC provides quote, "volunteer opportunities that allow students to benefit the larger community," unquote. In my conversations with superintendents, principals, and parents, when I ask if you would like to have junior ROTC in your school, I've never run into a superintendent or a principal that that said other than yes, I very much am glad we have Junior ROTC or I would like to have a Junior ROTC program.
This moment presents us with an opportunity to address a claim in recent news articles about JROTC. This reporting suggests that JROTC instructors commit sexual misconduct at much higher rates than civilian teachers. I very much doubt that assertion. There's simply no data available to support that. Sexual misconduct towards students is never acceptable and the JROTC program understands this and every instance of misconduct involving JROTC, the military immediately suspended the instructor -- the instructor.
But I will also say this to my fellow Senators, Junior ROTC makes an easy target in this area because the Department of Defense is a central repository of information and is subject to strict oversight. So there's a lot of information about JROTC. On the other hand, the information in public school systems is diffuse since the systems are large, sprawling, and decentralized.
We know school districts often do not publicly disclose cases of teacher sexual misconduct. It's just a fact. It is such a problem that last year the Department of Education released a report on the issue and found only 20 states have laws on the books that prohibit suppressing information regarding school-employee sexual misconduct.
And so, we don't get all the facts, but no one would suggest that we do away with public schools simply because there is some misconduct on the part of a very few members of the faculty. If anything, there is every reason to believe that Junior ROTC is a safer environment than others for our future leaders.
Junior ROTC instructors receive twice the screening, twice the screaming -- screening of a normal teacher before they enter the classroom, both from the military and the school district. Given this extra scrutiny, I am highly skeptical of the idea that JROTC instructors are more likely to commit misconduct.
Congress should be mindful of the highly positive -- highly positive impact of junior ROTC. In fact, it is celebrated on both sides of the aisle on this committee. My colleague from Massachusetts, Senator Warren, is to be thanked for raising this issue and has taken a substantive and helpful interest in JROTC and so as she re-enters the room, I thank her for that.
I will carry our shared work forward by introducing additional legislation this year that would further expand Junior ROTC to the hundreds of schools currently on the waiting list for a program. I hope to have many partners in this effort and I look forward to working with Senator Warren and the ranking member, Senator Scott, as we approach this year's NDAA. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you. And did you have a statement that you'd like to make, Senator Hirono?
Thank you, no.
All right. Good. So, to our witnesses, thank you for appearing. We have two panels today. The first panel consists of officials from the office of the Secretary of Defense, who will cover the full range of military and civilian personnel programs. The Honorable Gil Cisneros, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; Dr. Lester Martinez Lopez, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; Ms. Shawn Skelly, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness; Mr. Tom Constable, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs; and Ms. Elizabeth Foster, Executive Director, Office of Force Resiliency.
Welcome to all of you. Appreciate your being here. The second panel will consist of the assistant secretaries of the military Departments for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, we'll have Ms. Agnes Schaefer, Assistant Secretary of the Army; Mr. Franklin Parker, Assistant Secretary of the Navy; and Mr. Alex Wagner, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.
Again, thank you all for appearing here. Under Secretary Cisneros, I understand that you're going to deliver an opening statement on behalf of the first panel. Is that right? Then you are recognized for five minutes.
GILBERT CISNEROS, JR.:
Thank you. Chairwoman Warren, Ranking Member Scott, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Department of Defense's greatest strength, our people. On behalf of the entire team, I thank the committee for your support of the 2.3 million active and reserve component service members and over 900,000 civilians who defend our nation and the families who serve alongside them.
This year is an especially momentous year as the department celebrates the 75th anniversary of President Truman's order to integrate the armed forces, as well as the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force. Both of these events are responsible for creating the most unrivaled fighting force in history.
Near the beginning of his tenure, Secretary Austin laid out three priorities to ensure our military is capable of meeting any current and future threats; defending the nation, taking care of our people and succeed through teamwork. I have established four overarching priorities that are foundational to all the PNR's efforts; change the culture, promote the health, well-being and safety of the force and families, cultivate talent management, and advance strategic readiness.
In changing the culture of the department understands the trust is key to the preserving our all-volunteer force. We thank Congress for its support to providing the full amount of the Department's FY '23 budget requests in support of the recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military.
We are making progress towards implementing -- implementation of all approved IRC recommendations and your support for FY '24 budget request would ensure we complete this historic reforms to military justice, field a specialized prevention workforce, training and equip response personnel, and empower survivors to recovery.
We're also ensuring diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility principles are applied across the Department's efforts. We want to leverage the strength of all of our people, advance opportunity, remove barriers and ensure everyone within the Department of Defense is treated with dignity and respect.
With regard to promoting the health, well-being and safety of the force and families. We know the global pandemic economic pressures such as inflation and operational tempo make it more important than ever to focus on training and taking care of our people. Thanks to Congress's support our service members and civilians received a 4.6 basic pay raise at the beginning of this year and the FY '23 president's budget includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for 2024. These pay raises are critical to recruiting and retaining the all-volunteer force.
Secretary Austin directed the creation of the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee to conduct a comprehensive review. This committee's report was published in late February and the department is carefully reviewing the recommendations. Every death by suicide is a tragedy and weighs heavily on the military community.
We are tackling these issues with focused attention and dedication. With regard to cultivating talent management. Recruiting challenges will persist, but we are looking for ways to galvanize our future service members on the values of military service. The Department is implementing a comprehensive outreach strategy that includes partnerships with other agencies such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Selective Service that touts the benefits of public service to our nation and our communities.
We are also working on efforts to dispel inaccuracies and educate both our youth and their influencers through a national military advertising campaign. We ask for your support in the FY '24 presidential budget request, Which includes $40 million for a joint marketing campaign. With PNR's fourth priority, advancing strategic readiness, we are ensuring we can build, maintain and balance warfighting capabilities, and competitive advantage to achieve strategic objectives across threat and time horizons.
This includes updating our professional military education to make it more effective and relevant to the National Defense Strategy. As we look to the future, it is imperative that we do not take for granted what makes our US military unparalleled and unmatched. It is our people, the active Reserve, National Guard, DOD, civilian, and all of their families who are willing to serve this country.
They are the bedrock of our national security. So thank you for your continued support of our service members, their families, and we look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it, Secretary Cisneros. I'd like to start. I recognize myself for opening questions. All across this country, families need high-quality, affordable child care in order to show up at their jobs or go to school. Military families are no exception on this. In fact, because of nonstandard work hours, sudden changes, significant deployments, the need for child care among our military families can be even greater.
And that's why our military has long recognized that child care is essential to supporting service members' ability to protect our country. DOD runs the largest employer-sponsored child care program in the United States. Military and non-military families should all have access to high-quality, reliable care, which is why I based my bill for a universal child care system on the DOD model.
But the DOD child care system still faces its own challenges, a top one being finding enough workers to care for eligible children. Secretaries Cisneros, workforce shortages have been a major problem in the child care industry for years now. And of course, it's been made even worse since the pandemic. Are military child development centers facing this issue as well?
Thank you for that question, Senator, and really thank you for your support on the child care efforts, not only in the military but throughout the nation. And you are correct in stating that there is a national child care provider shortage in the country and we are feeling that as well. Since the pandemic, we have had trouble -- difficulties trying to hire more child care workers to work in our child development centers.
Last year we were able to raise the -- the salary, the minimum wage of our workers --
-- We're going to talk about the money in just a minute. But you do have a problem. Let's start there. And I just want to make sure I get this on the record, what it means for military families when they don't have access to the child care that they need. Can you just say a word about that?
Well, ma'am, it does create difficulties. You know, we, as you stated, see child care as part of a readiness. We want our service members to be able not to -- to really have to kind of think or worry to be able to have the ability to drop their child off at a -- for child care at a child development center or using one of the other options that we have available to them.
Really kind of relieve some stress from them and it allows them to focus on their mission and performing their tasks.
So it's a part of performing your mission and -- and being able to concentrate on your tasks. Now, it takes a lot to recruit and retain staff for anything. But one significant issue is pay which is where you started a minute ago, When was the last time you updated your pay scale for child care workers?
Well, last -- last year, ma'am. We were able to raise them.
I'm not asking that I'm saying. When did you last update the pay scale for child care workers?
Well, raising the salaries of our -- of our child development workers last year when we raised the minimum wage was when we were able to do that.
You got the minimum up, but I'm talking about the scale overall. Not everybody's down at minimum. I understand that the last time was 30 years ago. Does that sound about right?
It's probably been a while since we looked at it, ma'am.
And what is the highest level of pay a child care worker in the military system can receive under your 30 year old scale?
From what I've been told ma'am, it's -- allow Mr. Constable to answer this question.
Mr. Constable, you want to answer that one? I think that was known as a lateral pass.
Chairwoman, thank you very much. The top of the scale is approximately $55,000 per year.
$55,000. That's it. That's the top. So DOD runs a school system for military families called DODEA, or DODEA, right? How does the pay scale for DODEA to teacher compare with DOD child care pay scales for people with similar credentials? Secretary Cisneros? Unless you want to call on Mr. Constable?
Ma'am, they -- they don't really have similar credentials.
Well, that's the question I'm asking is when you've got people with similar credentials, maybe I should ask it this way. What is the top pay for DODEA workers?
Allow Mr. Constable to answer that.
The top pay is approximately $110,000 per year, ma'am.
So approximately $110,000, I think we understand the difference here, 55,000, 110,000 for the very top. So if -- if we had two workers with the same credentials, same education, same experience and one was teaching four year olds at a DOD child development center, they would earn only about half as much as one teaching six year olds at a DODEA center.
So I just have to ask, do you think that makes any sense and are you surprised to find out that you're having trouble filling these spots?
Ma'am, we know that as you stated, right? We are having difficulty hiring these spots. It's a national problem and I think being able to pay a competitive salary is part of that. That has to be there to get the solution to -- to resolving this problem.
So, that's why we're here today to talk about this. Look, child care is infrastructure. We need roads, we need bridges to get to work. In the case of our military, sometimes you need an aircraft carrier or a cargo jet, but you also need a functioning child care center. And if the federal government is serious about military readiness and national security, if it is serious about retaining families, then we need to invest more in child care workers.
And that means within DOD, it's put money into these workers and we need to start by updating these pay scales and doing it now. Thirty years is too long to go between and it is a statement that we don't care about those people. If we care about this system, we'll update those pay scales. Thank you. And I now call on Senator Scott.
Thank you, Chairwoman. All right. Secretary Cisneros, you know that we talked about recruiting's not hitting numbers. Tell me what you think of your marketing plan and your advertising program and is it -- is it very effective? What should you do differently and is it properly funded?
Thank you for that question, Senato. I will admit we need to do a better job of telling our story, the benefits of military service, what it could provide. You know I -- I was at -- just last month, I went out to go talk to a group of college students as well as a group of high school students about the benefits of service and really how it changed my life.
Like yourself, sir, I joined the military 18 years old. It put me on a different trajectory that -- that I couldn't even imagine -- that it never would have imagined for myself that I'd be sitting here. So there are benefits of that. And, I think, as our senior enlisted were here on the Hill a couple of weeks ago testifying is that we do -- we agree that we need to do a better job of telling our story and marketing ourselves.
We're working with our public affairs department to -- to do that right now. But, you know, as I said in my opening statement for OSD and the services have their own budget and they can talk about that in the next panel. But for OSD, we -- we are requesting $40 Million that's in the budget to really help us with a joint marketing campaign that will allow us to go out and do the research with JAMRS that we have, as well as to kind of go out and -- and market to the influencers whether it be teachers, grandparents, parents to let them know about the benefits of military service.
So, some I'm business, I've spent a lot of money on marketing in my companies and so we tested everything. We test all of our marketing plans, We -- we tested what worked, what didn't work. And so what -- talk about how you -- how you do that with regard to your advertising and how you market the military?
Well, we do have a firm, we do have JAMRs that -- as we call it, that we work with to -- to go and to help us prepare the marketing campaign that does the research for it. With that, I can turn it over to Mr. Constable can go into more depth about JAMRS and what it does for us.
Thanks very much, sir. Senator, thanks for your question. JAMRS, the Joint Advertising Marketing Research group that -- that does our work is very similar to what you'd find in industry and works closely, in fact, with industry. And as you probably are aware is a highly fragmented marketplace so really testing and piloting is -- is key just as you've said.
So to that end, the additional funds requested in the president's budget request for FY '24 will not be focused on closing deals with service members. The contact-to-contract is the services can speak about. What it's really focused on is building the brand, making sure there's more public awareness, and making sure that when the time for a decision comes for a young person to join or to not join, they're at least aware that military service or public service even is an option to them.
And then the services can speak about what's in their budgets separately for then going in and building on that -- that baseline that we will provide through JAMRS to actually close the sales with -- with each of the contractors.
So first of all, if you could send us a copy of your research, I'd -- I'd like to see it. Second, if it -- if it's not successful are you using the same people, do you change -- have you changed firms? Have you -- have you -- are you using the same people that -- that got you where you're way behind?
So, I'd have to get you along with the other information, the background on with whom we've worked over there, different iterations of this effort.
So, but has any -- has anything changed?
Significantly. So, again, what you're going to see in the '24 request is one of the biggest increases that we've put into this because we have our investment in that, that baseline awareness, the marketing to towards those influencers has waned over the years. So we saw the need to again not leave it all to the service ads or the service online spots or whatever medium they choose to to do the whole job.
Again, what you're seeing now is based on the data and understanding that rebuilding the brand and getting awareness to all of our target populations is where we're going.
If you're asking for $40 million, I mean do you have research to suggest if you -- if you got there and if and if you -- you start trying something and it doesn't work, are you going to stop?
I think we will have to, you know, see how the market responds to the investment like everything else. But the intent is to sustain over time that baseline marketing to keep the brand out there, to keep the awareness of public service, military service out there. And then I suspect that as the service numbers ebb and flow over years and years, they will make larger or smaller investments as they need to -- to keep their ranks at the right end strength.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Secretary Cisneros, probably for Mr. Constable too, my office has heard from our service members in Hawaii that they are deeply concerned about imminent cuts to their cost of living allowance by around 50 percent. That's a big potential cut. Certainly, I share their concerns. Hawaii has the most expensive cost of living of any state in the country today.
Today the cost of a gallon of gas in Hawaii is $4.85 more than a dollar above the national average of $3.46. A gallon of milk in Hawaii is about $7.25 compared to the national average of $4.41. The cost of housing in Hawaii is higher than any other state. I could go on. As we continue to combat inflation.
The thought of slashing the cost of living allowance for service members in Hawaii is absurd. Secretary Cisneros, does the Department of Defense have information suggesting the cost of living has fallen by 50 percent in Hawaii? If not, how does DOD justify cutting the cost of living allowance for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardians and Marines in Hawaii?
And really how do you justify this kind of potential cuts?
Ma'am, the cost of living allowance that you're referring is the -- over in Hawaii, they get what we call an COLA, an overseas cost of living allowance. And it really is about trying to bring it in line with what the -- to make sure that their dollar goes just as far as it does here in the United States -- in the continental United States, I should say.
I'm glad you know the continental US because Hawaii is a state. Go on.
But the -- what we're seeing here, right, is that the struggles have really kind of with inflation and inflation doesn't really play into the COLA analysis and how we come up with that. But in order to kind of make it -- well, in order to what happen as it's evening things here in the continental United States have grown as well and have gotten more expensive.
But I'll turn it over to Mr. Constable again to kind of go into detail of how the -- the formula is figured out there.
Thank you, sir. Thank you, Senator.
Well first of all, let me just get to, because I'm running out of time. So you believe this kind of a huge cut for service members in Hawaii is justified? And if so, could you send me the justification or send this committee the justification?
We could provide you with the information you, ma'am.
You consider this kind of cut to be justified?
I think the way that COLA is figured out and the system that it is and the way it is and it's not just -- I will say ma'am, it's not just Hawaii, but it's all --
-- Alaska? Well, wherever are you making these kinds of cuts?
Germany, Japan, all these areas are facing the same cut because again the COLA is meant to bring the pay scale or pay in alignment with -- with what it would be here to make sure that the dollar, if they were here in the States that the Dollar would stretch just as far as they are overseas. But as we struggle here or people are struggling here in the continental United States, it's kind of evened the playing field out.
So -- but we can provide you with that information and I'll turn it over to Mr. Constable.
Well, clearly I -- I don't think that these kinds of cuts are justified for service members in Hawaii. They're already having a pretty hard time. I was glad to see the president's budget included multiple investments in our service members like $90 million to expand full -- full day pre-K, $209 million for suicide prevention efforts and $637 million for continued investment in sexual assault prevention and response.
And although we've made some changes over time and how the military would deal with sexual assault cases, it's still an issue. It's still -- it continues to be a scourge. So I'm glad that this kind of investment is being made to continue to fight the scourge. And I appreciate the Department of Defense's commitment to taking care of its people.
But I think there is more to do, especially for service members considering their family planning options. Mr. Secretary Cisneros, what is the importance of the Department of Defense's new policies to ensure access to reproductive health care for our service members. And also cryopreservation is a fertility tool that service members, men and women, could use if they wish to have children in the future.
This is something that the British Armed Services provides. So could you give me your views on what the cost of cryopreservation under TRICARE would be and could this not be an important recruiting and retention tool for the military? All of the services are facing those issues.
You know, as you stated, Senator I believe family planning is very important and we've done a lot, I believe, to kind of help the service members with that. We have walk-in hours for contraceptives for -- for service members that are MTFs now that they can go and make sure that they are on a plan there. We initiated the -- the policies there to help support reproductive health care for our service members as well, where they're denied access to certain types of health care in certain states where we'll be able to ensure that they'll be able to be travel in order to get that health care.
As far as what you're asking for, I can turn it over --
Cryopreservation. I can turn over to Doctor Martinez who can go into depth with that.
Senator, thank you for the question. We do provide the services to service members that may have had trauma or are facing cancer. So, it's a very limited and only for service members. We are not providing the care for all the beneficiaries in the TRICARE system. So, and I don't know why.
So, you're saying that you provide cryopreservation options?
We may provide that in the case of trauma or in the case of --
-- OK, that's a very limited kind of set circumstances.
So I would ask that you look at what the British armed forces is doing in this area and let us know if this is something that we should contemplate.
Obviously I support going forward with it. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Senator Budd.
Thank you, Madam Chair, It's honor to be on the subcommittee with you and it's good to be with the member -- former member of the US House and I know we served together for a few years. A couple of questions. I want to draw your attention and this is on the heels of the recruiting conversation. I want to draw your attention to an incredible organization called Our Community Salutes.
It recognizes and honors high school seniors who plan to enlist in the military following their graduation. They also recognize or the group also recognizes their parents and other members of their family. Now this is an incredible way to build and maintain support for our military within communities across America.
Despite senior military leaders speaking at these events, I'm told that military lawyers have taken issue with official communications to inform recruiters and senior leaders of opportunities to engage or support our community salutes. So, Mr. Secretary, will you commit to look into this and find ways to partner with OCS, Our Community Salutes and other organizations like it. The bottom line is we need all the support we can get to get close to our recruiting gap.
So are you looking to this?
Yes, Senator. We could take that for the record and I'm not familiar with the organization or as to why certain members, senior members have been told possibly not to participate. But that's something we could take for the record and supply you with an answer.
Glad to submit that and look forward to your response. Speaking of responses, thank you for getting back on that letter I recently submitted, I received this yesterday. This is a letter my colleagues and I sent regarding the administration's decision to permit taxpayer funding for and authorization of travel to acquire abortions.
The bottom line is I just don't think this is an acceptable response. Once again, the department failed to answer the committee's repeated requests for information and instead we got what amounts to a form letter just repeating the new policies. And we knew the policies. That's why I asked the questions.
So here's a few of the questions I'd like for you to answer for the record. First, how many women or military families have refused to be stationed in Germany, South Korea, or any other country because of those nations' abortion laws?
I don't have that information for you, Senator.
If it's zero, if it's non zero, would you -- would you please send information on that? Would you commit to sending information on that?
I'll commit to looking into that and seeing what the information is if that's available. But that's not typically a question that we ask.
Please let us know if there's zero information or if there is information, let us know what that -- what that is. Does the department have any data on women who felt deterred from joining the military for fear of being stationed at an installation or base in a state or nation that has restricted or restrictive abortion laws?
We've had discussions, listening sessions with service members who let the military know --
-- Any -- Secretary, data on that?
And we also have a RAND report that they published and that the facts that they believe would happen from well the effects that the Dobbs decision would have on recruiting and retention.
If you would send that to us because we've repeatedly requested it. It seemed like that would be a good report to have sent.
We can share the RAND report.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that. What actions, if any, would the the DOD take against a commander that refused to facilitate the abortion of an unborn child in keeping with their sincerely held religious beliefs?
Well, Senator the -- the commander doesn't really know. When the service member's making a request they're asking for reproductive health care, reproductive health care, and that could come in different forms. The commander should not be digging into what the specific reason is why they're seeking reproductive health care.
The assumption was that it was -- that it was known and it was against their sincerely held religious beliefs. Would the DOD take action against such a commander?
Well, again, the commander should not know. They shouldn't be digging into that.
Indicates that it was.
But the -- it's -- I will say, if the commander feels uncomfortable with kind of approving such a request, he can move it up the chain of command. But it is not the responsibility of the commander to put their religious beliefs onto service members.
Yeah, that really wasn't the question. But, you know, millions of Americans, myself included, are rightfully against the use of taxpayer funds to facilitate abortion. So, we'll submit some more questions for the records. But in my final time here, what's being done to ensure that those kicked out of the military due to the vaccine mandate are able to rejoin should they want to continue their service?
Senator, there -- that would be a question that could be better answered by the services. They are the ones carrying out those tasks. But the Secretary made it clear in his memorandum that the service members that had put in a request for accommodation, whether it be administrative, religious or medical reasons, that those -- if a decision had been made, those requests would be -- would be pulled if it was specifically for COVID 19 and that if other members that were separated request, there is a process for them to apply to the board -- to apply for one of the boards that the services have to ask to -- to come back into their service or to have their -- their D214 adjusted their -- whether it be their status adjusted as far as their discharge status.
OK, Thank you for being here and I thank the panel. Chair, I want to yield back.
And, Senator Warren, if we could just interrupt for a moment.
Actually, you can't -- I'm sorry -- I'm sorry. We're in the middle -- we're in the middle of a hearing here. Senator Duckworth.
Thank you, Madam Chairman and good afternoon to our witnesses. Two years ago, gentlemen, I introduced legislation that ensured Guard and Reserve members receive the same monthly incentive pay for maintaining the same critical skills and taking on the same hazardous duties as their counterparts in the active component.
Reservists who qualify for these incentive pays work hard to maintain the same skills to the same standards as their active duty counterparts often on time when they are not technically drilling. Yet they are only currently paid 1/30 of the incentive pay that their active duty counterparts receive. So, the situation is for example jump pay.
You have to do three jumps a month as a paratrooper, a reservist goes out, he does his three jumps in one day, an active duty troop goes out and does his three jumps in one day. The active duty troops gets $150, The reservist gets five bucks for the same three jumps. This is an equity issue and one that I'm glad that my colleagues in this committee voted in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way to address by including my bill in the FY 2022 NDAA. Before implementing this section of the NDAA though, DOD must submit to Congress a report on its plan for providing equal incentive pays along with the certification that it will not negatively impact force structure.
This report was due six months ago in September 30th of last year. Yet Congress is still waiting for this report. Last October, after the deadline passed, I led a bipartisan and bicameral letter to Secretary Austin, urging the department to expeditiously issue its report and certification to Congress. As required by law.
We are still waiting to hear from DOD on this. We're still waiting to pay our reservists equitably for the critical skills and risks that they take to contribute to our military. Under Secretary Cisneros, how close is the department to completing the report? And more importantly, how much longer would you like our nation's reserve component to wait before it is afforded incentive pay parity with their counterparts on active duty?
Senator thank you for the -- the question there and I know I was a former TAR officer and then later they changed the name to full-time support in the United States Navy and working with our reservists. I know how -- how hard they work and how dedicated they are to defending the nation, you know for that but for that, I'm going to turn it over to Mr. Constable, who can.
Wonderful. Why are you six months, late?
Senator, this is a conversation that has started many, many working groups really. So we're very much aware of the requirement and apologies for the late report. We do anticipate meeting with the staff soon to talk through some of the impasses that we've reached based primarily on the realization in all camps that not all special skills, not all special pays are created equally or should be treated the same.
We just have to find the right mix of places wherein we seek equal dollars versus equal consideration. And of course all cognizant of creating incentives to draw people from one force to the other as as one report has warned. But we do owe you a report and we do believe we're nearing a solution to propose.
Can you tell that in ordinary people speak as opposed to DOD speak? What's nearing? Six more months? A year? I believe, I think you guys are slow rolling this because you don't want to implement it.
Not -- not -- not years, not months, Senator. I think the answer is weeks, obviously faster when I go back than before I left the building.
Less than two months.
When I return back.
Will you call me back within a week to tell me when the report will come?
I think it's ready for staff. I don't believe, Senator, it's ready for -- for the members quite yet.
When will it be ready for the members? When can you commit to?
I can commit to meeting with the staffs in weeks or less.
I'll give you four weeks.
You need to do this and this -- this idea that you can slow roll this and that you're -- that an active duty troop is going to leave the active duty to go through the reserves because he's going to get 150 bucks extra a month for three jobs is an insult to the troops that are on active duty and it's still an insult to the troops who do those same three jumps every single month in order to make -- to meet those standards?
I'm going to move on to my next question. The military services faced challenges in meeting their recruiting goals, in part due to a historically small pool of eligible recruits. This year I'm introducing the ENLIST Act. This legislation enables the Department of Defense to expand its recruiting pool to include individuals like DACA recipients and other longtime residents of this country who can pass a DOD background check and meet the service's high standards for enlistment while maintaining the department's security standards, the ENLIST Act will aid the service's recruitment efforts by allowing highly skilled and motivate individuals to succeed in the military.
Undersecretary Cisneros, Mr. Constable, I'd like to hear from each of you whether you think the ENLIST Act's expansion of the pool of possible recruits would benefit military recruitment efforts? And as a follow up for either of you, what other actions has the Department undertaken to bolster efforts to recruit diverse talents from across the nation?
Ma'am, Senator, we've tried this before to try so we are in support of trying to diversify our enlistment pool in order. I know there are a number of kids, young students that have grown up here in the United States that consider themselves American citizens that have really done nothing wrong, have a good lives, and have -- want to serve.
So, you know, this is something that we've looked at in the past that we tried to move through in the past and we were continued to try and do it again.
You didn't answer my question. How about Mr. Constable?
Senator, the department would support any effort to expand the recruiting pool. So, we look forward to reading the details within your bill and the $40 Million that we spoke of earlier that's contained in the president's budget request for JAMRS, in one part is really geared toward getting at some more diverse populations.
We don't like leaving any money on the table or any population unchecked, especially with all the skills that they bring us or the opportunity to better reflect the American public. So, to that end, you should expect to see and demand to see more marketing, more advertising geared towards a broader population and we look forward to the contents of your bill.
OK. Thank you. I'm over time.
That's fine. Thank you. Senator Sullivan.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Good to be on the committee. I want to thank the witnesses. I'm going to follow up on Senator Duckworth's line of questioning for Mr. Cisneros, Ms. Scully and Mr. Constable. And if this has already been talked about, I apologize for getting in here late, but we have this recruiting problem right now and I don't have to tell you, but the Army's 2022 recruiting goal was missed by 25 percent.
So far this year, the Army, Navy, and Air Force are projected to miss their 2023 targets. And I'm really interested in what you think is going on. There's different theories. It's economy. There's, you know, I think there's cultural issues, right? If you tell everybody every day in The Washington Post and The New York Times that the military is full of extremists, which, oh, by the way it isn't. OK.
It isn't. Let's just get that one right. You're going to have people go well, geez, I don't want to send my young son and daughter there. Right? So The Army deserves some credit developing its soldier prep course, which I think has been successful. The Navy seems to be taking a different approach, which is dropping its standards to as low as they can go. Not really wise in my view.
The Marine Corps hasn't missed its recruiting goals, but I don't think they're out of the woods yet. So, what do you think is happening in how do we need to get on it? And I do think that the average man and woman, young man and woman in America who wants to serve. They want to deploy. They want to defend their country.
They want to fight. Right? So, I think we can't lose that aspect of trying to recruit for the men and women who want to do it. We don't have to go too far afield to say, "Oh, we're going to do all these other appeals." We should appeal to the patriotism and desire that's been in this country for 200 plus years to deploy and fight for their country.
I think that's how you get good recruiting numbers, But what do you guys think?
Senator, thanks for the question and again, for the opportunity to kind of talk about recruiting. We know there are some challenges out there right now. And one of the things that we are seeing in the research that we have is that there is definitely a military civilian divide. You know, as Senator Duckworth said, right, the recruiting pool is getting less and less smaller and smaller of those who are qualified.
So -- and they're not qualified because they're overweight, they have a low ASVAB score. What is?
It -- well, those are two things right there, sir, right there. That's -- they're not meeting the academic standards, they're not meeting the physical fitness standards. But then we're also seeing that, you know, 30 years ago 40 percent of people between the ages of 16 to 24 knew somebody who served in the military.
That's only 15 percent right now. They don't know what the military is. They don't understand what it's about. And that was why earlier we talked about, you know, we have got to do a better job of going out and telling our story and the benefits of military service.
It changed my life. It put me on a different trajectory. I know it's done that for -- for thousands of people.
So, are you viewing the soldier prep course as an answer that other services can maybe emulate?
I think the -- well, the Army could probably better talk about that later on, but that is one of the things that they saw. They saw there was a need to help students academically, to help them get in better shape in order so they can meet those standards. I understand -- from what I understand is the Navy is -- is talking about emulating that program as well.
So any other thoughts, Mr. Constable, Ms. Kelly?
Senator, I want to point out one specific initiative we've had and that is the medical session review pilot. And this is where we're questioning conventions that have constrained us over the years just simply because we know more than we used to, especially with electronic health records. And that is where we used to say if you have had asthma at any point, you are not eligible.
So, we -- we questioned all of those working closely, of course with the medical team to define where we can assume a little less looking at the data to where these people would qualify and that's brought thousands more in.
Good. What about -- this is a topic I've been -- on that topic on mental health. Right? Right now, I know for a fact that certain services, and I've been asking this question through the Armed Services Committee, but we disqualify young men and women some services if they've seen a psychiatrist or if they've been on medicine for mental health.
And yet we want them to try to improve their mental health, right? How are we thinking about that in a way that would not just say, "Oh, you were on medicine for six months, you saw psychiatrist, young high school kid, you're disqualified." Because then that's just the wrong message. They're either going to lie or they're going to not seek help.
There's -- as Mr. Constable said, there are a lot of things that we have looked to to reevaluate that. We're trying to work with the services to expand that.
Is that one?
I believe it is one. You know, one of the things is that we are trying to do within the military is destigmatize mental health. The secretary says all the time mental health is health. We want people to come forward when they need -- they need to talk to somebody or they need to see a professional. You know, we don't want them to, you know, used to almost be if you said you had a problem, they would just automatically take your security clearance away or ground you from flying the aircraft.
We don't want that to be the case anymore. We've been working hard to change that and to make it so that people will come forward and deal with their health issues.
Good. Thank you. Senator Blumenthal.
Yeah. Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I want to follow up on exactly that question because, frankly, I can well envision you'd rather have someone who sought help and someone who denied the need for it, said, "I'm fine," but I want to shoot up a classroom or whatever. And it's not going to talk about that when they come to a recruiter.
So, you say you're working hard. What are you doing and what's your timetable for specific steps? And I'm not here to sort of put you on the spot, but I would like a written response with specifics as to what you are doing to change those qualifications. And on what basis for mental health, because I think the question raised by Senator Sullivan is absolutely critical.
Yes, sir. We can provide you with that. But, you know, there are some great programs in the -- that the service has had that they implemented. One, I always like to talk about is the Air Force has True North where they put in counselors within their squadrons to provide them, you know, individuals to talk to when they need counseling or just to talk about different issues.
Active duty members?
But what about the -- the recruits who will come to see the Marine Corps recruiting officer of the Navy recruiting officer and say, "Yeah, I had -- I went for help." What happens to that person?
Well, Senator, like I said, we can provide you with that written response. I can turn it over to Dr. Martinez Lopez who might be able to comment on that. But we are working with the services. We are working with them to try and expand. We were able to come to agreement on 38 different issues, whether it be asthma or whether it be ADHD.
OK. I don't have time to -- to hear about all of that. I want to focus on mental health because mental health, as the secretary has said is -- should be regarded the same as physical health. So ,if somebody broke a leg and they said to you, yeah, I broke a leg, I played football, you know, I was out for six months, I'm fine now.
You would take them. If someone says, "Yeah, I had a problem. I went to see -- I went to see a shrink and it really helped." That's the kind of story that should be regarded in the same way. But I want to relate this issue to a very specific one and that is the suicides of sailors on the US George Washington.
Three sailors died by suicide while that ship was undergoing maintenance and repairs. One of them was Xavier Sander from Connecticut. His dad has been pummeling the Department of Defense for information about what is being done to better the conditions of sailors when their ship is not at sea, when it's being repaired.
He was forced to live on the ship while it was being repaired, like living in an apartment that's being renovated. He couldn't sleep, He was In bad shape and he didn't get help. The Department of Defense Is doing an investigation or an inquiry. Do you have the results?
Senator, we don't have the results to the inquiry or the investigation that the Navy is doing. I believe that's still ongoing. I believe that would be a better question for the Navy in the second panel as to what they're doing and the improvements that they're trying to make for those living conditions --
-- My understanding is the work has been finished and that it's under review. Can you tell me why it hasn't been made available to the father of the young man who lost his life?
Senator, I can't do that right now. I haven't seen the report myself.
Can you look into it?
We can -- we can see what we can do, We can take that for the record. But I believe again that would be a better question for the Navy as to where they are with that report and --
-- Well, I've asked them --
-- what are they looking into --
-- and they say it's under review. We're coming up on the one year anniversary of his death, April 15th. And for all you've said about you're paying attention to this issue of mental health. By the way, these three sailors are not the only ones. There have been other suicides on other ships similarly situated in home ports for repair or maintenance.
This is a specific kind of circumstance where you're losing life in real time. So, to wait a year for a report makes no sense to me.
Senator, look, we know any loss of life through suicide or through any means is a terrible tragedy and it does weigh heavily on our military family. But I'm sorry that I don't have the answer for you, why that report is still under review. Again, we can take that for the record and try and get you a better answer.
Well, my time is over, and I just want to ask you to commit that you will provide someone to meet with John Sander, who lost his son to suicide on the USS Washington, when he comes down because I'm going to invite him down and I want him to be able to meet someone from the Department of Defense. Will you make someone available?
Senator, we'll try and see what we can do to make somebody available to meet the individual.
OK. Thank you.
Thank you. Senator Kelly?
Thank you, Madam Chair. Secretary Cisneros, good to see you. Thank you for being here. Last year, we discussed the implementation of Section 704 of the NDAA we passed in 2021, otherwise known as the Brandon Act, which improves the ability of service members to quickly obtain mental health care. It also reduces stigma and provides needed training.
The Brandon Act is named for fallen United States Navy Petty Officer Third Class, Brandon Caserta of Peoria, Arizona. He was a dedicated young sailor. He did all the right things as he was trying to deal with his mental health issues. And he suffered some significant mental health problems. He was discouraged and ridiculed and then tragically took his own life.
Now, I've been working closely with Brandon's parents, Terri and Patrick, on this issue. They were in my office just about a week ago and we share serious concerns about the suicide epidemic, as does Senator Blumenthal and Senator Sullivan, and I'm sure everybody on this committee. We need to use every tool that we have to fight this challenge.
And one of those tools is the Brandon Act that was in the Defense Bill last year. So now I know we've spoken about this before, but I'm concerned there haven't been visible signs of progress on implementing the Brandon Act. And I've raised this with you and service secretaries in the past, and last year I added to the Defense Bill a requirement for a formal progress report on DOD's implementation efforts.
That was due on March 1st. I think today is the 15th. So Secretary Cisneros, why has the committee not yet received your implementation report as required by the Defense Bill? And are there any updates that you can provide to me today about what actions the Department is taking to implement the requirements of the Brandon Act?
Senator, thank you for that question. And as we stated earlier, any death by suicide is definitely a tragedy and it really does weigh heavily on our military family, and we are trying to make improvements. Congress has really kind of given us the ability with the Suicide Prevention Independent Review Commission that we were able to complete at the end of last year.
We can have Ms. Foster kind of talk about that a little if you like, but we are making progress on the Brandon Act and to do that and to talk about it, I'll turn it over to Dr. Martinez Lopez, who can kind of give you an update on that, sir.
Senator, thank you for the question. We need to honor Brandon Caserta. There's no question about that. And the best way to honor is through putting into effect the law. I'm new at the job, been there for three weeks, but I can tell you that the long pole on the tent was the issue of the law, brought everybody including the individual ready reserve that have no command and control.
So we were trying to figure out how to implement the law including all the service members. I recommend and I think we're moving forward. What we're going to do first is going to break the active duty and let's go. We can move in that axis right away. And then as we come out with a solution set for the rest of reserve components, those that have command structure next and then the IRR, because there's issues of care and there's a lot of--so we're moving, I guess--
Mr. Secretary, you're talking about how the Brandon Act will be implemented.
But my first question was, we were supposed to get a progress report on the implementation and that certainly could be, what you said here, could have been in the progress report. We were supposed to receive that on March 1st. We're now two weeks past that. We've not received it. So when could we expect the report on the progress of the implementation?
Senator, we started talking to the staff. Hopefully very soon. In the next month or so, you're going to see the report coming to you, of how we--hopefully before that, of how we implementing the act. But I've just gave you the kind of the scope of how we're approaching it.
So in a month or two, we could expect the progress report on the implementation?
All right. You talked a little bit about the implementation. So I'm interested in seeing that and in detail about what are we doing to make sure that what we passed in legislation, how it's going to be implemented. Anything else you might need from us, you could add that as well. And because this is such a serious issue.
I mean, it's not only in the Navy. I mean, in DOD, this is a major problem. It's affecting readiness, but that's not the reason to do it. I mean, the reason to implement this is it's the right thing to do and it will save people's lives. So thank you.
Thank you. Senator Kaine.
Thank you, Madam Chair, Ranking Member Scott and to the witnesses for being here. I just want to pick up on Senator Kelly's on the Brandon Act, because this occurred in Virginia. I've also met with the Casertas. And just to put a really fine point on this, they've lost their child under unimaginably horrific circumstances.
They are turning that grief into an effort to try to do something to help others. If we pass a law but do not implement it, it's a revictimization of a family that doesn't deserve to be revictimized. They will view that as yet another pain that they are suffering at the hands of the United States military.
So this needs to be done because we have a significant challenge, and I'm going to get into another dimension of this, but it also needs to be done so that a family that has already suffered doesn't suffer more. So I just echo what Senator Kelly said. We need to see that report about implementation. We need to see it soon.
We need to understand that this is not some box checking thing that people are doing just to appease us, but you're doing it to meet a need that is a very significant one. I've recently had two strings of really difficult suicides within the Navy in Hampton Roads, Virginia, so just in one community. Sailors aboard the George Washington who trained for an MOS and thought they would be doing something, but instead because the George Washington has been in this limited duty status for so long, many of them are there and will have their whole career while the ships getting refurbed, not doing what they thought they might do. A sense of purposelessness can can grow that can exacerbate other challenges.
The living situations for folks when their ships are in drydock getting refurbed aren't necessarily the best. Then we had four suicides within a space of five months with--five weeks, within the space of five weeks with sailors who had been assigned to the mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk.
This is a center, one of seven or eight in the United States that they're kind of like MacGyvers. It's a really great mission where they take things off ships and subs that are busted. Instead of paying millions to do something new, they can figure out a way to fix it and get it back on. It's an important mission, but it's very unusual in the way it's been composed.
Of the 2,500 people who work at MARMC, half or civilians who are under contract. They know how long they're going to be there. Half are sailors. Of the sailors, half have been assigned to the mission, but half were assigned there under a limited duty status. Maybe they were pregnant, maybe they broke a bone, maybe they had a disciplinary issue, and so they were pulled out of the fleet and assigned there.
And most of that, nearly 600 people in the limited duty status at MARMC, they have no idea when they're going back to the fleet. They may be in a med board process that is completely opaque, and they don't have a sense of when it will be over. And that then builds up some sense of purposelessness when you don't know what your next step is, and you don't know when you'll know.
You not only don't know, but you don't know when you'll know, then that can also contribute to significant mental health challenges. And that's why no surprise, those four suicides in this workforce of 2,500, it wasn't civilians. It wasn't the sailors that were assigned there for a traditional tour. It was all people within this limited duty population who were living in a world of kind of big question mark about what would happen to them.
So I guess I'd like to ask particularly to be it with the Navy, when we have members of the armed services who were assigned into limited duty status, what can we do to make sure that they have support they need while they're in that status? Because there was no embedded mental health professionals in this workforce of 2,500, even though 600 of them were on a limited duty status, each one different from the next, each one with a lot of questions about their future?
What can we do with our limited duty to provide them the services they need?
Senator, thank you for that. And again, as the secretary says all the time, mental health is health, and we want to ensure that we're taking care of our service members that have needs. I'll turn it over to Dr. Martinez Lopez here, but any service member that needs to see a physician can always go and talk.
And it's not just whether--it's the people that needed to seek mental health, right? We have counselors for people who are having financial problems, if they're having relationship problems. The individuals are there for them to go and to talk to, but I'll turn it over to Dr. Martinez Lopez specifically to talk about the mental health and what individuals need to do in order to seek help.
Senator, very good question. I think we're taking the approach, the public health approach. And you're right on target, which is it's not a medical issue. It's a public health. We all play, the commander plays. There's financial issues, social issues, there's medical issues, and we need to address all of those.
Think about it like a rucksack that has a lot of stuff that is heavy, and we need to figure out how to live in that rucksack. So if there is a financial thing that we can do to help that sailor, that's one thing. If there is a social family issue that we can help them with, let's go and relieve that. If it's a legal issue that they're dealing with, let's go and try to--and by doing that, we decrease the risk of that sailor, soldier, sailor or marine or guardian, from--that's part of the equation to this conundrum.
So I think we are in the right track in that respect. A lot of work to be done. A lot of education. It's a never ending process, but I'm confident that we need to keep sailing in that direction and trying to make headways.
Right. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you. Thank you. I think our ranking member has a comment.
Well, first off, I want to--Senator Duckworth, Senator Budd, and I think Senator Kelly, I mean, they all asked things that they would like to be more responsive. So I hope you guys will do your best to be more responsive. The other thing is, we go through the National Defense Authorization Act and we're just trying to get stuff in there every year and some of it are reports.
And if you're not going to get a report on time, I mean, I think the first thing you probably ought to do is tell us and tell us why. Because we're not doing it because we don't care, We're doing it because we care. So I think if you're not going to get a report, I mean, I think all of us would like to know it. I mean, I think this committee is going to actually work to try to figure out how we have--people want to serve.
And let me--I went through what Senator Kaine was talking about in drydock. I was in drydock. My ship was in drydock, and it's boring. It's really boring and it seems like there ought to be a way to send people to training and do things like that rather than just--we just sat around and did nothing. And it wasn't like the ship was at risk.
I mean, if you're in a dry dock area nobody could get there. So they didn't need us to show up and hold a gun every so often. But thanks everybody for -- yeah.
So I agree. I really want to associate myself with the remarks. It is very frustrating when we get things into NDAA, that's something we've all worked on to make it happen, and then when we don't get answers, that's a real problem for all of us. So the commitment specifically that Senator Duckworth has extracted and that others have asked for, regard that as something the whole committee is behind, and we expect her to get her answers in a timely fashion.
We're going to do a second round with this panel for those of us who want to do second round of questions. I want to do a second round. Are you good?
Yeah. I'm good.
You're good. You're good. And I think Senator Duckworth would. So we've got two more rounds and then we'll go to the second panel that we've got here. So the US military should have the best doctors in the entire world. In a crisis, these are the medical professionals who are on the front lines, but unlike doctors who are at a really busy place like Mass General or Boston Medical Center, military doctors don't have a constant stream of service members with serious injuries coming in the front door.
Now, it's a good thing that fewer service members are suffering serious injury, but it is also a problem for the doctors because it means they get less practice stitching people up or setting broken bones or doing emergency surgery to repair gunshot wounds. One of the key ways that military doctors and surgeons maintain their skills is by treating civilians at military treatment facilities or MTFs. Now, Dr. Martinez Lopez, how does DOD benefit from treating civilian patients?
Thank you very much, Senator. That's extremely important to us, a way, from the standpoint of readiness, we need to keep all the docs and all nurses--it's not just the docs. It's the whole team that has to be sharp. By taking care of civilians, we do two things. One is the readiness piece, but also the good neighbor piece.
I mean, like in San Antonio, if there is an emergency and they show up in our doorsteps, we have the good neighbor responsibility to provide good care to them too. So we need to, as you said, we need to bring about more patients, especially trauma patients. And we--San Antonio is a perfect place where we do world-class burn care and also trauma care.
And hopefully, we never have to use those abroad, but if we do, our team will be ready to deploy and do that right.
So we want you to be sharp and we want you to have the chance to train as a team on an ongoing basis. We want you to be able to be designated as trauma centers because your level is that high in terms of your practice. In other words, treating civilians--for the military to treat civilians is supposed to be a win-win.
The civilian patient gets world-class care and military doctors stay up to date on their skills. It is not working out so well for patients. Most of them are dropped off at the MTF in an ambulance because they need emergency treatment and the MTF is the best closest option. Two thirds of civilians who end up at an MTF care do not have any insurance.
The military treatment facility sticks these patients with massive bills and if the cost isn't waived, federal law requires aggressive debt collection, including garnishing patients' wages or seizing tax refunds or even taking 15 percent of their Social Security checks before it even reaches their pockets.
Now, the good news is the DOD now has authority to waive these debts. Dr. Martinez Lopez, over the last five years, military treatment facilities treated almost 30,000 civilian emergency patients. For how many of those 30,000 patients did DOD exercise its authority to waive civilian medical debt, keeping in mind, two thirds of these folks do not have insurance?
Ma'am, a very small number. I think 57.
57, that's exactly right. 57 times DOD waived medical debt out of 30,000 people who came in and incurred these debts. So DOD is actually waiving that, I tried to work this out, in about 0.2 percent of the cases. Now, DOD claimed that their number is low because waiver authority was too narrow, that the debt could only be waived if there was, quote, direct and compelling relationship to a priority DOD objective, not just that someone can't pay.
So to address this problem, Representative Castro and I got an amendment into the 2021 NDAA, some of you remember this, to expand DOD's authority to waive medical bills. Our changes clarify that if medical treatment for civilians will enhance military medical readiness overall, and if the patient is unable to pay, DOD has legal authority just to tear up the bill.
Dr. Martinez Lopez, how often has DOD exercised this expanded authority to waive costs for civilians when the treatment will enhance readiness and the patient is unable to pay?
Ma'am, I don't know for sure, but I don't think we've done many, if any.
Yeah. So it kind of is looking like zero right now. Look, DOD is dragging its feet on while these patients are toppling into financial ruin. The GAO also found that DOD wasn't telling patients that they had an option for relief, as required by DOD's own regulations, and they weren't properly tracking people when they had or had not paid their bills.
So Dr. Martinez Lopez, on this new notion that we're really going to start holding people accountable in this committee, can I have your commitment that you're going to clean this up, start wiping out medical debts for civilians who shouldn't have been hit with those devastating bills to begin with, and you're going to get back to me on this?
Senator, I don't want to put more burden, and my colleagues are in the same boat, on patients that already have been traumatized. That's not what we're in. I mean, this--and worse, they cannot even pay. So why do we want to keep adding insult to many of those? So we thank you for this waiver. As I understand right now, we're talking to the rule making.
I've tried to figure out how can I expedite that rulemaking to give the solution set that you want, and we want. So I commit that I'll work hard to get through the process in DOD and start affecting in a nice way the patients that we care for.
I understand your heart is in the right place. I'm not quarreling with your heart. I got to have your actions in the right place.
So I'm going to ask for the same thing that Senator Duckworth asked for. Can you get back to me in four weeks and at least lay out what the plan is to make certain that patients are fully informed about the opportunity to have their debts wiped out, and what DOD's plan is to implement what we all work to put into the law in 2021?
I will get back to you, ma'am.
For weeks. Just to tell me what the plan is. I'm not even asking you for the final report. I'm just--tell me what the plan is.
I'll be glad to talk to your staff or yourself in four weeks.
Four weeks. OK. We got it. Secretary Duckworth. I'm sorry. Senator Duckworth.
Old job, assistant secretary at VA, old job. Thank you, Madam Chair. Gentleman, service member commit their lives to defend our country and they should not struggle to feed their families. Yet in July of 2022, the DOD released an updated report that found that 24 percent of all active duty service members experienced some level of food insecurity in 2020 and 2021, with our junior enlisted facing the highest risk.
That's why I introduced a bipartisan Military Family Nutrition Access Act last month. This bill eliminates basic allowance for housing from income calculations under the SNAP program. So right now if you apply for SNAP, they count your BAH as income even though other programs like Medicaid and the IRS doesn't consider your BAH to be income.
By using an already established nutrition assistance program and simply updating the treatment of BAH so it is in line with other federal assistance programs, we'll expand nutrition access to more military families so that they can qualify for SNAP benefits. Under Secretary Cisneros, Assistant Secretary Skelly, do you consider food insecurity and a lack of access to nutrition among a significant percentage of military families to be a readiness issue?
Remember your own report said 24 percent.
Secretary, I think food insecurity is definitely an issue and it's something that we are working hard to help resolve. The secretary put out a series of memos kind of addressing different things about taking care of our people. One of them was around food insecurity and it was about kind of really trying to provide--well, the research that we have kind of shows where a lot of this happens is when PCS happens, service members or their families that have to move, the spouse usually has to give up a job.
That puts a burden or puts a financial strain on the families and kind of makes the food insecurity where maybe they're not getting good quality, healthy food all the time there until they're able to get a new employment, but this is something that we are working on. We are working to try and ensure that spouse have access to employment, whether it be through just being able to transfer if they have a job within DOD or other federal government agencies and being able to remote work or telework.
We're partnering with over 600 companies that have made a commitment to hiring spouses as well, to relieve some of the strain. But we definitely see it as an impact and as a readiness issue when families do have struggle, to help provide their families with healthy meals.
Would you support increasing a greater access to SNAP benefits for military families, as would be granted by my act? Basically, it just says when you apply for SNAP, SNAP should not consider BAH as income because no other part of federal government does either?
Ma'am, it sounds very interesting, but I would have to look at the legislation and your proposal before we make any commitment to that.
OK. Well, we will get you to that in less than six months. My next question. Assistant Secretary Martinez Lopez, I know that you've only been in your seat for a short time. Welcome. I led a cordial to Japan and Indonesia last month to discuss a wide range of issues with our partners including energy, security, economic engagement and people to people academic exchanges.
However, while I was in Japan, I heard from DOD civilians about the struggles that they are now facing accessing health care due to a rules change at their local military treatment facilities. What is being done by your office to resolve these issues in Japan?
Senator, thank you very much. I think the health care of not only the service members and their families is important, also the civilians that help us. It's a team. I think we have grown that piece of the team larger and larger overseas but giving more opportunity to civilians to help us in this. So we haven't compensated alone.
The MTFs are just--the force structure is just to take care of the active duty and the family members. So what we do is we increase efficiencies of those clinics to see, create space available to then see the civilians. And we haven't changed the policy. It's the same policy that's been standing for many years.
So what we have done is we increase--we're working hard to increase the efficiency of those clinics so more space available will be for the civilian, but that's just a band-aid.
Well, but what I heard from them is actually the opposite, that they have recently--that they were being seen at the facilities and the facilities have actually turned around and said no, we're not going to see you anymore. You go out on into the economy in Tokyo and find your own doctors. And not that they're not great doctors in Tokyo, but frankly with language capacities, they are now no longer able to access health care.
Ma'am, Senator, if I may. I went to Japan recently. I did five town halls, heard--both in mainland Japan and Okinawa, talking about this issue. As Dr. Martinez has stated, right, our policy hasn't changed. The civilians and the contractors have always been seen on a space available basis. But what we had done was we had kind of sent out a message through DHA, the Defense Health Agency is because we were hearing from our service members and from their families, is that they were having trouble getting appointments and they are our top priority there.
But what we've done, as Dr. Martinez has stated, is we've asked the MTFs there in Japan to maximize their efficiencies, to open up more--make more appointments available so that those that are seen on a space available will have more of a chance to go and to get that access and to get that health care as well.
Will you be doing this around the world for all of our DOD civilians?
We're looking at it. I think Japan is what we learned is very unique. The cultural differences there, as the way they provide health care as to what we're used for is definitely different. The language barrier creates a big--it's a big challenge there. But it is something that we are looking at. My deputy was just recently in Germany, kind of looking at some of the same issues.
But the space available is everywhere throughout the--that's everywhere throughout the Department of Defense. It's not just specific to Japan, but we are working to go and increase and to see what we can do to provide other opportunities, whether it's providing a clinic through through APHIS that could see patients, or partnering with an organization like we do with our defense, with our service members, make an organization available that will help them seek the health care that they need out in the community like we do for our service members when we don't have access to that type of health care and they need a certain type of health care and we just can't provide it at that location.
Could you have your point person--
We need to wrap this up if we can.
OK. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate all of you being here. Ms. Foster, Secretary Skelly, appreciate your being here even though any questions didn't come to you. The first panel is excused, and we'd like to bring up the second panel, please. [Audio gap] You OK?
She does a good job.
She does. She does her homework. I'm on that letter with her about Japan.
Yeah. [Inaudible] do their jobs. [Audio gap]
All three. Yeah, I saw. OK. Everybody ready? Good. Thank you all for being here. So our second panel consists of Assistant Secretaries of the Military Departments for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. And each of our witnesses is going to do a brief opening statement, I believe. Can I start with you, Ms. Schaefer, Assistant Secretary of the Army?
Are you ready?
Chairwoman Warren, Ranking Member Scott, distinguished members of this subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you on behalf of the men and women of the United States Army. At the end of December 2022, the Senate confirmed me to be the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and I joined an amazing Army team that works tirelessly every day to improve the lives of our soldiers, civilians and families.
I bring both deep and broad expertise to my current position, as well as a renewed emphasis on leveraging data and analysis to assess the effectiveness of our policies and programs to better target our resources in alignment with the Secretary of the Army's main six objectives. Between my previous position as a senior advisor to the current deputy secretary of defense and my 16 years at RAND supporting the Department of Defense through research and analysis, my focus every day for years has been on improving our Army's readiness, to meet the objectives of our national security strategy and to improve the lives of our active and reserve component members and their families.
In my current role, these continue to be my focus in the service of our soldiers, civilians and their families. My three priorities are readiness, including quality of life and prevention of harmful behaviors, manning the army of 2030 and the strategic modernization of our personnel policies, processes and systems across the entire spectrum of our Army people strategy.
Readiness ensures that we have the ability to project combat power whenever, wherever it is required. Manning the army of 2030 requires not only the new weapon systems and doctrines to succeed in the future of warfare, but also the people who have the appropriate skills and competencies for tomorrow, not just today.
Strategic modernization includes how we recruit and hire, how we grow, employ and manage talent and how we create a workplace culture that enables people to thrive and want to expand their careers in the Army. The Army's mission remains unchanged, to fight and win our nation's wars. We are building the army of 2030 and in doing so, taking care of our people because they are the foundation of our great army and our number one priority.
The future of Multi-domain operations requires highly trained, agile and resilient personnel across the total force. Active guard reserve and civilians, people perform the best when they are part of cohesive teams founded on treating everyone with dignity and respect. All of the Army's personnel programs and initiatives are focused on this because we lead with our values, and in doing so is essential to the readiness required to accomplish our mission.
Chairwoman, ranking member and members of the subcommittee, thank you for your unwavering bipartisan support of our outstanding soldiers, civilians and their families. I look forward to our discussion on our questions today as well as continuing this conversation in the future.
Thank you very much. Secretary Parker, representing the Navy.
Stop that. I just want to point out, my brother's Air Force, Army. We're trying to do the best [Inaudible].
Thank you. Chairwoman Warren, Ranking Member Scott and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to join you here today. I am honored by this opportunity to appear before you to talk about our Department of the Navy's sailors, marines, civilians and their families. As the 2022 National Security Strategy makes clear, we face unpredictable threats and global challenges.
Our nation needs a strong, well-trained, well equipped Navy and Marine Corps to address the wide array of challenges and threats, and we must leverage our talent to retain both our competitive edge and our multi-domain dominance. The changing strategic landscape demands we maintain and strengthen our nation's maritime dominance, so our forces can deter, fight and win against potential adversaries.
As an integrated team demonstrating talent, capabilities and dedication second to none, together, our sailors, marines and civilians can overcome any challenges they face. Our people are our greatest strength and core to our success, both as a military and as a nation. I'm incredibly proud of their performance, commitment and unparalleled resilience in the face of the dynamic global challenges that have become our present operating environment.
Our nation needs a strong, well-trained, well equipped Navy and Marine Corps to address the wide array of challenges and threats facing our nation. To be a combat ready force, we must leverage the strengths of all our people. Further, because we have an all-volunteer force, we must ensure that all segments of our society see value in serving and are treated with respect when doing so. In our constantly evolving environment, we must continue to invest in mechanisms that ensure the services are positioned to meet their recruitment goals.
However, we do have some challenges. The general decrease in propensity to serve and several years of the COVID-19 pandemic, limited both student attendance and recruiter access to schools, making it difficult for our recruiters to make and maintain contact with potential recruits. The Secretary of the Navy is personally involved in addressing these challenges.
As part of these efforts, we have engaged with leadership from the Department of Education for support with school access. We also contacted principals who have restricted recruiter access to their schools. Through these and other efforts, we seek to ensure our services have what they need to meet their recruiting goals.
In addition to recruiting, the Navy and Marine Corps team remains committed to retaining the right talent and experience, which also complements our recruiting efforts. We will explore every lever within our authority to maximize retention, and we are already seeing positive trends in retention rates across both services.
Over the course of the last year, the Department of the Navy has made significant strides to assess how education is delivered to the force and modernize our educational objectives. Today's Navy and Marine Corps team is one of the most technologically advanced ever conceived, able to dominate in the air, sea and undersea.
As we become more technologically advanced force, education will be a crucial warfighting enabler. Through our Naval university system, we are creating a continuum of learning that develops leaders to serve at every level and equips them with skills to maintain and operate increasingly complex systems in an everchanging warfighting environment.
We are well aware of the fundamental link between mental health, resiliency and the readiness of our force. To that end, we are committed to supporting and ensuring the mental health, safety and well-being of all sailors, marines and Department of Navy civilians. Suicide is a national issue to which the military services are not immune.
Given the complexity of this challenge, our Office of Forced Resiliency has taken a comprehensive approach to holistic data driven suicide prevention efforts that harmonize with the defense strategy for suicide prevention. We have also taken note of the recently released report from the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee and will work within DOD's coordination framework to implement key recommendations.
The Department of the Navy is committed to eliminating sexual assault within the Navy and Marine Corps at every level. In addition to the toll brought on individual victims, sexual assault directly impacts our unit cohesion and ultimately undercuts our readiness. Sexual assault is a persistent challenge that requires a multi-pronged approach that leverages a wide range of initiatives, not only to address sexual assault, but also to prevent it before it occurs.
Secretary Del Toro directed the establishment of an implementation advisory panel last spring, bringing the leaders of all Department of Navy principal offices to the table to implement the recommendations of the Secretary of Defense's Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault. Through this effort, the Department of the Navy has made significant strides to implement the IRC recommendations, though we fully recognize additional work remains.
Further, to those efforts, we are investing significant resources to fuel the necessary changes and we have made substantial progress in standing up a dedicated workforce to prevent harmful behaviors, professionalize the response to sexual assault and best support survivor recovery. Quality of life issues are critical to our service members and their families.
The stresses on our spouses and children weigh on the minds of our service members, especially when they are deployed. By caring for our families, we enable our service members to continue their focus on the warfighting mission. To this end, we have taken action to implement increases in parental leave, support spousal licensing and career advancement and expand dependent care support in early childhood access.
Additionally, we are pushing to end food insecurity among our most junior sailors and marines through access to financial literacy tools and other forms of support. Regardless of the challenge, the Department of the Navy's sailors, marines and civilians consistently answer the call. They step forward and perform superbly in our country's times of greatest need.
Time and again, our Navy and Marine Corps team has invariably risen to meet all challenges and defend our nation, bonded together by almost 250 years of tradition and an unwavering deep-seated sense of duty to our country. I look forward to working with you to ensure our efforts meaningfully and effectively support the well-being of our sailors, marines, civilians and their families and that we always best position them to fulfill their vital roles for our nation.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today and I stand ready to answer your questions.
Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Parker. Secretary Wagner, representing the Air Force.
Chairwoman Warren, Ranking Member Scott, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and thank you for your continued support for our airmen, our guardians and their families. I'm looking forward to working with both of you and continue the work with your terrific staff.
I'm proud not only of the adaptability, but also the tenacity of our force as current world events such as pandemic recovery, inflation and a return to great power competition pose ever evolving challenges for our nation. In order to recruit and retain a lethal expert and resilient force, the DAF needs our partners on the Hill to help us tell our story to the American people and showcase both the unique missions of military service, but also the unique value of military life.
We're implementing the vision of the secretary of defense, outlined in his Taking Care of People initiative, but have also gone further in important areas like childcare and spouse unemployment. Our members need to know that we're doing everything we can to take care of and support their loved ones. That also means providing a competitive compensation package, housing and education benefits and quality health care.
I believe we've made progress in this respect as validated by our 90 percent retention rate, but I acknowledge we must do more to promote resilience and prevent those harmful behaviors that are counter to our values, undermine our team and diminish our readiness. In particular, sexual violence will not be tolerated, condoned or ignored within our ranks and those that breach that trust will be held accountable.
Finally, I want to talk about the recruiting challenge that the DAF and the other services have been facing. The Air Force is currently projected to miss its enlisted active component recruiting goals for the first time since 1999. There are multiple factors that have made recruiting challenging, including historically low unemployment, strong private sector wage growth and a lack of access to high schools exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the most important factor, propensity to serve, is the lowest we've seen in decades. But what does that really mean? It starts with a lack of familiarity. Secretary Cisneros said in an earlier panel, in 1995, 40 percent of Americans had a parent who served. But today that number is less than 13 percent.
After 9/11, military installations became more hardened and more secure, but it also further separated those who serve from those whom they protect. That lack of familiarity has been filled in by a public narrative that emphasizes the risks of service while missing the benefits. The DAF is taking steps to address this issue by opening up opportunities for communities to visit our bases, sharing inspiring and authentic stories of service members and highlighting the stakes of our high tech mission to deter near peer competitors.
But the department can't do this alone, and we need your help. Congress has a critical oversight function of the military, but we also need to enhance our partnership to increase propensity to serve. You are an important voice to your constituents, to the young people, to the parents and to the influencers that can help shape the next generation of service, by elevating opportunities and highlighting the benefits of our values and our team.
Now 50 years into an all-volunteer force, we must be able to reach all communities of America, geographic and demographic to ensure we recruit the brightest and the best. You can't be it if you can't see it. Every person in America's Air and Space Forces play a critical role in ensuring that this organization is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow and in particular, our pacing challenge.
We're excited to partner with you and to rebuild this relationship with the American people together. And with that, I look forward to your questions.
Thank you. So I'm going to ask the first round of questions here. The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps or the JROTC is a DOD funded program for middle school and high school students that is designed to teach students the value of citizenship and public service. Schools hire and oversee the instructors and then the military services that train and pay part of the salaries for the instructors who are all retired service members.
DOD and the Department of Education share oversight for the program, but there are some pretty serious gaps in that oversight. A recent New York Times investigation found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been criminally charged with sexual misconduct. I started my own investigation with Senators Blumenthal, Gillibrand and Hirono in response to this alarming situation and found that there were at least 114 allegations of abuse over the past decade.
Now, when the services learned about these 114 cases, they did the right thing and suspended or fired the instructor, but I am worried that we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. Secretary Schaefer, the Army has the largest JROTC program of all the military services, so let me start by asking you. One of the main ways that we track whether we're making progress on military sexual assault is an annual report.
Is there any kind of formal annual reporting on instances of sexual assault and harassment in the JROTC program?
Senator Warren, thank you for your question. This is an issue that deeply concerns me as well. There is an annual--my understanding is there's an annual report, but it has not had that tracking in it. Yet, my office--
So there's no--the annual report I'm asking about is, is there a report tracking the incidences of sexual assault?
So yeah. There is a report. It has not tracked sexual assault--up to this point--
So the answer is no.
Yet. My office has directed it. Before I came in, in December, my office directed that we include that in the report that already--
OK. But right now there's not. But you're now trying to put this in. OK. That's good. That's a good thing. Another tool recommended by experts for tracking this type of problem is a survey that allows individuals to anonymously report instances of sexual harassment or abuse. Does the Army have that kind of survey for JROTC?
I'm not aware of it, but I can look into it. And I agree that that might be a good--
I think you'll find the answer is no on that. So let me ask the other services. Annual report, Secretary Parker?
Chairwoman Warren, no. There is no annual report.
No annual report. Secretary Wagner?
Chairwoman, there is an annual report. It's called the DEOCS, for military folks and for DOD civilians. These are employees of schools, the JROTC instructors, our school employees, the students are obviously students, and so the optic of the military asking a survey--
I'm not asking that. What I'm asking is, do you have an annual report that records how many people reported sexual assault against your folks who were in the JROTC program?
The Air Force JROTC program office tracks this extremely closely at every--
So you do. So if I request that annual report, you'll get a copy of it, and it will show me how many people reported incidences of sexual harassment or assault?
I can't say it's a formal report. What I can say is I have seen--
--Well, then it's not a report--
--a list of every single incident and the disposition over the last five years.
So the answer to my question about is there an annual report, is that a yes or a no?
As far as I'm aware, we don't have an actual annual report. No.
OK. All right. And do you do a survey? Secretary Parker?
No, we do not do a survey, Senator Warren.
And Secretary Wagner? OK.
Senator, we don't do a survey, but we do provide a number of mechanisms for either parents or students to report incidents.
Look, if you're serious about sexual assault and sexual harassment, these are the two best tools that we know we have available. And I'm asking the question, are the military services doing it? I'm hearing from Secretary Schaefer that she's starting with the Army. I'm not hearing it from the Navy. I'm not hearing it from the Air Force.
And I'm asking all three of you, using the second tool and that is surveys that I'm hearing the answer is no, no and no. So look, no annual reporting or just starting some annual reporting, no surveys. In other words, there's no real way for the DOD or the services to have the kind of information they need to exercise basic oversight.
You've got to start with knowing what's going on, and we know the problems with these surveys. We know that people underreport. We know they underreport formally. We know they underreport in surveys, but you've got to at least start there. One of the biggest problems that has come to light in these investigations is also that some of the instructors who abuse these students had done it before, for at least seven of the instructors that we know about who were eventually criminally charged, it turns out that students had already raised concerns with the school before the incident that got these instructors arrested.
So let me start there. Secretary Schaefer, if colleges fail to report public safety issues like sexual assault, the Department of Education can find them under the Cleary Act or even strip them of all federal funding. There are serious consequences for failure to report. So let's ask about DOD accountability.
If schools fail to report or stop this behavior in JROTC programs, does DOD have any mechanism for saying you no longer get to operate a JROTC program?
My understanding is that it's the responsibility of the schools to report any of these incidents.
I know. And I'm asking, when school falls down on that responsibility, if this were the Department of Education, the Department of Education actually has tools to use to say you're going to pay consequences if you fail to report, because we all understand nobody wants to report this stuff. And the schools that are responsible certainly don't want to report this.
So I'm asking, is there anything in the Army JROTC program that that will tell a school if you fail to report there will be consequences?
Again, I'm not aware of that, but I can look into it for you and give you an answer.
OK. I'm going to take that as a no unless you tell me something different. Secretary Parker, how about the Navy?
I am not aware that there's a specific trigger for removing a school [Inaudible].
I'll take that as a no. Secretary Wagner?
Senator Warren, the Memorandum of Agreement between Air Force ROTC and each school has specific requirements for schools to report.
I'm not asking about the requirements. I'm asking about whether there are consequence if the school just keeps its mouth shut?
If the school violates and consistently violates the Memorandum of Agreement, then the school will be decertified, as would any--
Have you ever decertified a school?
I'll have to look into that for you.
OK. All right. But you say you actually have a mechanism?
We have a mechanism.
OK. All right. So we've got this on sexual assault, very disturbing findings, and sexual harassment. There's one other thing I want to cover very quickly and that is, recent investigations have also found at dozens of schools, have forced students to participate in the JROTC program against their will.
Parents have to sign a permission slip for a kid to go to the museum on a field trip. The notion that thousands of students are forced to participate in JROTC programs is just out of line with the program's values. Secretary Schaefer, would the Army support requiring JROTC programs to certify that their units are made up only of students who have provided informed consent to participate?
Well, we certainly don't condone forced enforcement of this, and that may be an option we would look into.
So you would like to see--so perhaps a way to certify that that is the case?
Secretary Parker, how would the Navy feel about that?
Senator Warren, I believe that's something that we would be willing to consider.
OK. And Secretary Wagner?
OK. Look, we have an all-volunteer force. We should have an all-volunteer JROTC. I think we should all be able to agree on that. If the military doesn't step up and prevent these kinds of abuses, then you endanger our ability to continue programs that build our force for the future. This is your reputation on the line here and I hope you will work with me to get some procedures in place to make this program a safe program for all of our kids.
Thank you. Senator Scott, Ranking Member Scott.
So thank you. Secretary Wagner, first off, thanks for being here. One thing, you guys watched the earlier panel. Anything that's required under the NDAA, if you'll just make sure you let us know where you are in the process because it can't be a lot of fun to be up here and then somebody ask you why you didn't do it. So if you could make sure you let us know where you are on anything that you think that's required under the NDAA, so that'd be helpful.
Secretary Wagner, the Space Force just celebrated its third birthday last December. I think a lot of us are concerned that many Americans don't really understand why--[Inaudible] Space Force or why our national security matters in space. What are you doing to raise the profile of the Space Force, introduce the unique missions of guardians to the America's youth and compete for talent with the booming private sector of commercial space industry, especially in my great state of Florida?
Ranking Member Scott, I'm excited to talk about the US Space Force. Three years in the mission is incredibly important. It helps every day protect not only our modern way of war, but more importantly our modern way of life. We're excited to continue to work with Congress to develop a proposal to manage talent in the Space Force very differently than we have in the rest of the military departments.
And you'll be seeing a legislative proposal on that topic, in order to allow us to access a different type of talent and to have a talent process where we're able to have better permeability between full-time and part-time guardians. And we can do that for two reasons, one, because of the small size of the Space Force, but also because of the ability to attract high tech STEM talent.
We're focused on building brand identity because frankly, the American people really don't understand what the Space Force is or what they do. And so we're committing this year to spend $12 million on building that brand identity, principally with influencers. The Space Force today is meeting its recruiting mission, but we're concerned about the future.
Finally, in the era of declining propensity, we need to access a greater variety of talent, and as I said, manage them differently. And in order to access that specialized STEM talent, we need to take on new approaches and try some new things. I think the Space Force is leading the way. And I think, to get to your question, folks who have the ability to look at the option of military service today differently than maybe one would have looked in the past, where it's a full career today, being able to talent, manage and say I'm going to go take a couple of years off to focus on making sure my kids get into college or raising them at a certain time or to take care of a sick parent.
Those are some of the things that we're looking at in order to allow people to plan their careers differently, see themselves and see themselves serving in a different way that we could have done before.
Thank you. Secretary Schaefer, the Army, as you know, has had trouble with recruiting and so I think you guys have relied more on retaining. So how does that impact the readiness of the Army?
Thank you for your question. So I think that this really is a--and strength as sort of a three legged stool as we think about it. So we have accessions, attrition and retention. And our retention is historically high right now, which is wonderful. And I think that that, somebody mentioned it in the earlier panel, that once we get them through the door, they want to stay.
So we are really focused on addressing the civilian military divide that we talked about. My sense is it keeps getting wider and deeper. I think there's, in the Army in particular, there's a sort of historical piece to this as well. We bracked a lot of our installations in the northern part of the country.
So our biggest recruiting tool is somebody walking down the street in uniform and talking to people about their experiences. And they just don't see that in the northern part of the country or know somebody who is in the military in general. And I think that creates a huge knowledge as well as cultural gap that we need to fill.
So along with what Secretary Wagner mentioned, we too are looking at this. I'm bringing my RAND lens to this and thinking about all of the complaints that I have heard over the years from service members. And a lot of it is this, it's too hard to serve in many instances. That's what I keep hearing. And it's modernizing these systems, right?
We have a postindustrial personnel system, and it's those annoying things, right, that people are sort of working through. And I want to make sure that we don't lose people because of those annoying things, so that we can bolster and keep that retention piece high as we try to bridge this gap across the civil military divide on the recruiting side.
Thank you. Thank you, Chairwoman.
Thank you. Secretary--Senator Blumenthal. I'm promoting everybody today.
Thank you. A whole lot of secretaries today.
Thank you. Secretary Parker, I had a dialog with Secretary Cisneros. I don't know whether you were in the room at the time? So you know that I asked about the sailors on the USS Washington, in particular, Xavier Sandor. It's a Connecticut family. The others are from elsewhere in the United States. In addition, there are others who have committed suicide.
Is there a report, and when will it be released?
Senator Blumenthal, thank you very much, and I was present for your prior comments, and I appreciate your concern and advocacy on this point. I am familiar with the report. So that is the phase two report from the GW investigation. This one pertains to quality of service, I believe. I believe this is the report that you're referring to, and so this looks really kind of at the quality of service, quality of life factors influencing the sailors who died by suicide during that period.
I understand that report will be released this spring and I commit to you that I will go back and really push for the speediest issuance of that report.
Well, I'd like to see the report now. Meaning now. Why is that not possible?
Senator, I have not seen the report personally myself either, but that is something I will take back and see how soon we can provide that.
It's almost a year after Xavier Sandor took his own life. I think the family has a right to see that report. What would you say to the family? What would you say to John Sandor? His son committed suicide almost 11 months to the day ago, and the Navy still has not given him the facts. What would you say to him?
Senator, I have no response that I could give to him that that would be sufficient.
Well, my response would be, I will show him the report, ask him to come down. And I am going to invite him to come down next week and I would like you to come to a meeting with me in my office and John Sandor. Will you do that?
I will, Senator.
All right. And I hope you'll bring the report.
I will go back, and I commit to you, I will do my very best, Senator, but I will be in that meeting next week. Well, with all due respect, and I know this is not your decision alone, so I'm not blaming you personally. But I'm a dad. Two of my sons have served. One as a marine Corps infantry officer in Afghanistan, the other as a Navy SEAL. And if it were my son, I would be--I'd be pretty angry.
So I hope you can be there with the report. Senator, I look forward to working with you on this issue. I will do my very best, but I will be in that meeting if you desire. Thank you. Thanks, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Senator Blumenthal. So I want to thank our witnesses for their service. I want to thank you for testifying today. I also want to thank John Clark, Gary Lee-ling, Andy Scott, Sophia Kamali, Sean O'Keefe, Katie Magnus and Brendan Gavin for their work in putting together today's hearing. I value your contributions and I look forward to working with all of you.
Today's hearing makes it clear that we still have a lot of work to do to offer our service members, our extended military families and even our civilian employees and the civilians who interact with our military, the very best. I look forward to working with Ranking Member Scott as we go forward on a bipartisan basis to do the very best for our people.
Thank you all. This hearing is closed.
15 March 2023
Subject specific information for the media
Events or announcements of note for the media
Official Navy statements
Given by Navy leadership
Updates on sailors from around the Fleet
Google Translation Disclaimer