3 new lawmakers have experience in Iraq
WASHINGTON — Congress’ three new Iraq veteran members say they’ll work to keep lawmakers’ attention on overseas military issues in the coming months, even as legislative focus shifts to domestic economic challenges.
The three men — Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif; Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.; and Rep. John Boccieri, D-Ohio — say their status as recent veterans gives them a different perspective on military legislation and an extra responsibility to push that agenda.
"I feel like that’s why I was elected to this seat, so that’s where my focus will be," said Hunter, who as a Marine and reservist served two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. "So that means we have to keep talking about Iraq … and make sure that we’re getting the military what they need to succeed in Afghanistan, too."
Hunter and Coffman were named as members of the House Armed Services Committee this week. Hunter said along with monitoring strategy for the Iraq troop drawdown and the Afghanistan personnel buildup, he plans to push for better funding for Navy projects, especially major weapons systems.
"Navy funding has suffered over the last eight years," said Hunter, whose district covers much of San Diego County. "We need to make sure the Navy stays strong, and cuts in their systems is not the best way to do that."
Boccieri, who will sit on the House Transportation Committee, hopes to introduce legislation allowing reservists’ employment disputes heard in state court instead of federal courts, a move he said could drastically cut the time it takes for such lawsuits to be decided.
"Right now when the federal courts hear those (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) cases, it can take two or three years," said Boccieri, an Air Force reservist who spent four tours flying missions into Iraq.
"These returning veterans still have to put bread on the table, so that often forces them to walk away from the fight and find another job elsewhere."
He also said he’d like to research how to establish a national wounded warriors fund, similar to an Ohio program funded several years ago, which would allow taxpayers to donate their refunds to combat veterans struggling with paying bills.
Coffman, a retired Marine who was deployed to Iraq in 2005, said he’ll work on overseas voting issues in the coming months, looking for ways to improve ballot delivery to troops. He did not know when he might introduce legislation on the matter.
"But it’s very difficult for voting assistance officers overseas to do that job," he said. "Having missed one election myself while I was overseas, I want to make sure everyone in uniform has the opportunity to cast their vote."
In addition to the three new Iraq veteran lawmakers, two others already in Congress have served as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., worked as a military lawyer with the Army in 2003. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is a colonel in the Air Force Reserves and spent more than a month in Iraq over two active-duty tours in 2007.
Three other House members — Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa.; Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa.; and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. — were deployed overseas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.