President Donald Trump signed into law a defense bill on Friday that ushered in significant reforms for military families.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorized $738 billion in defense spending for the current fiscal year, contains the largest pay raise for members of the military in a decade, at 3.1 percent.
“As we head into Christmas, I am proud to report that we are giving every soldier, sailor, airman, Coast Guardsman, and Marine a well-earned pay raise. In January, each of you will see the largest increase that you have had in such a long time,” Trump said Friday before signing the bill.
The bill also doubled the reimbursement amount for state licensure expenses incurred by military spouses as they move from duty station to duty station in the U.S.
It also eliminated the so-called “widow’s tax,” which blocked certain benefits for families of the fallen.
The “widow’s tax” allowed widows to qualify for survivor benefits from only one program even if they qualified for several different programs under the Department of the Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. For every dollar received under that one program, a dollar would be taken away from money received under the other programs.
“The tax is gone,” Trump said. “That was very important to us. The ‘widow’s tax’ is gone.”
The bill also tackles the military housing crisis, which has seen thousands of military families sickened and displaced from their military base homes due to mold, lead, pests, or other dangerous conditions.
The bill creates a tenant’s bill of rights for service members and their families, bans private housing contractors from imposing nondisclosure agreements, and standardizes assessments to monitor health hazards, among other requirements.
The bill also allows members of the military for the first time to file claims against the Pentagon for medical malpractice, inspired by the case of Green Beret Richard Stayskal, who currently has Stage 4 lung cancer after a military doctor misdiagnosed him years ago.
Although the bill does not repeal the Feres doctrine preventing service members from suing the military, it authorizes the Secretary of Defense to allow, settle, and pay an administrative claim against the United States for personal injury or death of a service member as the result of medical malpractice caused by a Department of Defense health care provider.
The bill also authorizes 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal civilian employees after the birth or adoption of a child, a top priority of first daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, who was present at the bill’s signing on Friday.
“After years of unrealized promises by other politicians, I honor my commitment today as I sign paid parental leave for the federal civilian workforce. That’s paid, into law,” Trump said.
“That’s a very big thing: paid parental leave. Another thing that they’ve been trying to get for many years.”