Congress to DoD: Support Protections For Servicemembers During Pandemic

May 1, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D- Calif.), Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Military Personnel Subcommittee, led a letter to Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Mark Esper regarding the unfair financial burden facing servicemembers as a result of the stop movement order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some servicemembers and their families were in the midst of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move when the stop movement order was made and  may be forced to pay for multiple housing arrangements and make two payments-- one for housing at their current duty station and another at their intended PCS. 
 
In their letter, the Members wrote, “As we continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its impact on our military, our nation, and our world, we ask you to remind leadership throughout the Department that our servicemembers are our most important asset, and it is every leader’s duty to take care of them and their families. We applaud the commanders who have taken this to heart and prioritized their responsibilities to approve or deny Exception To Policy or ETPs. Congress stands ready to enable the Department, its leadership, and its servicemembers to succeed in these goals.”
 
“Our servicemembers are used to making sacrifices for the greater good, but the stop movement order due to the COVID-19 pandemic has left many servicemembers in the lurch, stuck paying for homes they can no longer move into-- at no fault of their own,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “These consequences were unintended, but given the financial hardship caused by this action-- it is our responsibility to step in. That’s why, as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I’m calling on DoD to step up and provide relief to these servicemembers and their families by ensuring they are compensated for additional costs and inconveniences incurred as a result of the stop movement order.”
 
“Although the Defense Department rightly implemented stop movement orders at the onset of the pandemic, military families in the process of moving experienced unintended consequences,” said Ranking Member John Tester. “After following proper precautions, servicemembers with pending lease agreements and outstanding moving costs were unfairly left to foot the bill. Secretary Esper must work with Congress to right this wrong, and protect servicemembers from further bearing the brunt of this unprecedented crisis.” 
 
“As millions of American families are struggling to make ends meet right now, it’s particularly appalling that some servicemembers and their families are being forced to make two housing payments,” said Rep. Mike Levin. “These servicemembers are incurring a huge financial cost simply because they are following orders. That’s unacceptable. The DoD must do everything in its power to right this wrong as quickly as possible, and I stand ready to offer a legislative response if needed.”
 
“DoD’s stop movement order was the right response to the pandemic, but military families stuck between PCS moves should not be left holding the bag,” said Rep. Jackie Speier. “The Department should take swift action to help these families meet their needs until they can safely complete their moves. This is the bare minimum DoD can muster for our troops and their families who sacrifice so much for their service to our country.”
 
They were joined by 23 fellow Members--click here to read the full letter.
 
Their letter builds off Rep. Deb Haaland’s recent push calling on Secretary Esper to ensure these unfair burdens were remediated. Given the Committee’s new letter, she commented: 
“Military families should never have to sacrifice financial security for their health and well-being, but the stop movement order had unintended consequences that forced military families to experience extreme financial burdens,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland. “As the daughter of two military veterans, I know that military families face incredible obstacles– it’s why I called on the DoD to provide relief for military families last month. I’m grateful to Veterans’ Affairs Committee for elevating this issue. As we move into a longer STOP movement order, the Department of Defense must provide financial support for military personnel during this global coronavirus pandemic.”