Ms. HOOLEY. Mr. Chairman, with four in 10 members of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan serving in the Reserve component, it is clear that our National Guard is no longer a strategic reserve, but an operational reserve. And as such, we must change the way we treat the Guard if we want to maintain recruitment and retention because it is the right and fair thing to do.
After 5 years of mobilization, both involuntary and voluntary, our National Guardsmen are still navigating the system that was intended for use by the active duty rather than our current nearly even blend of Reserve and active components.
My amendment to H.R. 1538, the Wounded Warriors Act, is simple. It allows members of the National Guard and Reserve who are returning from theater with minor injuries or other outpatient care needs the option to seek treatment at the military medical treatment facility closest to the member's home rather than closest to the base from which the member was deployed.
When an active duty soldier with certain injuries comes back to the United States, he gets treated at the medical facility closest at his home base where his family lives. But for Oregon Guardsmen and Reservists and soldiers from about a dozen other States that have no bases, our troops must remain for weeks at the base they deployed from for follow-up care. These can be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home and family.
In 2004, I spoke with Monica Davey of the New York Times about the problem as she covered the issues in a series of front-page news stories. She quoted one spouse as saying, ``Having him in Iraq was hard enough. When he got hurt, I said, `Well, at least he can come home now and get better here with us.' But it is a strange thing. He came home, but he is not home at all.''
This problem is old news and no longer on the front page, but it still goes on. Here are a couple examples of what happens when these Guard troops request treatment upon demobilization:
An Oregon Guardsman who returned months ago is still on the east coast base with medical issues. He and his wife have several young children; and, as can happen with lengthy deployments, the separation has strained their relationship to the breaking point. He has seen his family only once in the last 3 months. That soldier should have the option of seeking treatment at Fort Lewis in Washington State, much closer to his home.
Another story involves an enlisted man with a wife and young children who has seen his young family stateside only three times in the last 3 months, once because the Army sent him home for convalescent leave, and the other two times over the holidays because his wife drove their children out to the east coast military treatment facility where he was awaiting care because they couldn't afford to fly.
These stories are heartbreaking; and, despite years of work on trying to get the problem fixed, little progress has been made. Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, tens of thousands of Reservists and Guardsmen have been placed on medical hold.
As the New York Times reporter Ms. Davey aptly put it 3 years ago, ``Unlike the most gravely injured soldiers receiving around-the-clock treatment at the finest military hospitals, these are ordinary soldiers with more ordinary wounds. The loneliest and the impatient can elect to go home even if they still need medical attention, but that could be a very expensive trade-off. Military rules dictate that they lose their active duty salaries, even though they may still be too injured or ill to return
to their civilian jobs.''
Today, four out of 10 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are Guard or Reserve, and it is long past time for the DOD to adjust their policies and make improvements to the demobilization process for Guard members in States like mine that have no military treatment facilities. I ask for your support of this amendment so we can finally give soldiers from the Reserve component the flexibility to be treated for certain injuries at military medical treatment facilities nearest their homes and families
just like the active component.
I yield to the gentleman from New Jersey.