WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate today passed the final National Defense Authorization Act, which includes key provisions U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) helped secure for Ohio servicemembers, veterans, and civilians. The first provision would help study the effects of burn pits on servicemembers’ health. The second would help restore eligibility to servicemembers seeking to transfer their educational benefits to dependents. Finally, the bill also includes legislation that provides paid parental leave for 2 million federal workers nationwide.

Brown helped secure these provisions in the House-Senate NDAA conference report, which now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Burn Pits

The military relied on open-air burn pits to dispose of toxic waste in Afghanistan and Iraq, which exposed servicemembers to toxic chemicals and fumes that have been linked to certain deadly diseases. Brown introduced his Burn Pit Accountability Act in January and helped secure its inclusion in the Senate’s version of the NDAA, which passed in June.

“We have a responsibility to ensure our servicemembers have the care they need to address the dangers they face while serving our country,” said Brown. “This legislation is a first step toward addressing the unique health needs of those exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Brown’s Burn Pit Accountability Act would help Ohio servicemembers and veterans by:

  • Requiring Department of Defense to evaluate servicemembers for toxic exposure during routine medical exams and directing the Department to share whether each servicemember was stationed near an open-air burn pit;
  • Enrolling servicemembers exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry that will monitor and identify the harmful consequences of exposure to burn pits.
  • Brown’s legislation would increase the requirements on the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to track and evaluate servicemembers’ health when they have been exposed to burn pits.

The Burn Pit Accountability Act is sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and supported by several veterans organizations, including: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Fleet Reserve Association, Military Officers Association of America, US Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Non Commissioned Officers Association, Service Women’s Action Network, US Army Warrant Officer Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the US, The Retired Enlisted Association, Chief Warrant Officer Association- US Coast Guard, Air Force Sergeants Association, National Military Family Association, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMSUS, American Veterans (AMVETS), Reserve Officers Association of the United States, Air Force Women Officers Associated, Disabled American Veterans, and Association of the United States Navy.

Brown is the longest-serving U.S. Senator from Ohio on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

GI Bill Transferability

Last summer, the Department of Defense issued a new policy that would have prevented servicemembers with more than 16 years of military service from transferring education benefits to their eligible dependents. Previously, any servicemember who had served for six years was eligible to apply to transfer their benefits. Brown fought to reverse this rule and secured a provision in the NDAA to reverse this Trump administration rule that prevented servicemembers with more 16 years of military service from transferring the GI Bill education benefits to their children.

“It’s our duty to ensure that servicemembers, who sacrifice for our nation, have the ability to transfer this education benefit to a dependent if they so choose,” Brown said.

Earlier this year, Brown introduced the Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability Entitlement Act with Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to ensure that all servicemembers who have completed 10 years of service in the Armed Forces are eligible to transfer their benefits to dependents at any time – either while serving on active duty or as a veteran – providing a comprehensive fix to the Administration’s unfair, broken policy. This legislation is supported by the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States and the Reserve Enlisted Association.  

Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers

The bill also includes a provision authored by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and cosponsored by Sen. Brown that will provide 2 million federal workers across the country with 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child after birth, adoption, or the initiation of foster care. Although the current Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care of a new child, it does not provide any paid leave.

“For too many Americans, hard work doesn’t pay off. If we truly value the dignity of work, we need to recognize that paid family leave is something all workers should have the opportunity to earn,” said Brown. “I’m glad to see the paid parental leave provision included in the defense authorization bill. This is an important step for federal employees, as we continue to invest in our workforce and ensure that hard work is rewarded for all workers.”

Studies have shown that providing paid leave for federal employees would save the government at least $50 million annually in turnover and replacement costs. Federal agencies are already struggling to recruit and retain young talent. Just 6 percent of the federal workforce is under the age of 30, while roughly 40 percent of the workforce is eligible to retire within the next three years.