What It Took to Get Our Troops the Benefits They Earned

04/25/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On Thursday I was pleased to announce that long overdue policy guidance was released by the National Guard Bureau which will ensure that Iowa's Army National Guard and Reserve members are finally paid the "Respite Leave" payments they were promised when they completed the longest deployment since World War II in 2007.

For some of us, this change in policy has been a long-time coming. Over the last two years, I've joined with my Congressional colleagues in bipartisan, bicameral efforts to pressure the Department of Defense to expedite their bureaucratic delays, and to pass the necessary legislation to pay soldiers these benefits.

During this long process, I always had the help and support of my amazing staff, and together we made this one of our top priorities.

Under this fix, thousands of our service members across the country will be provided benefits under the Department of Defense's Post-Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence (PDMRA) program, commonly known as "Respite Leave." This benefit will give service members $200 for every day they were deployed beyond established rotation cycles.

The PDMRA program was established to provide soldiers assistance with their reintegration into civilian life and to help with the retention of service members who experienced long tours. However, because of a delay between the announcement of the program by the DOD and the implementation of the program by the individual services, thousands of troops have still not been paid these benefits.

In 2009, I introduced the Guaranteed Benefits for Our Troops Act (HR 1222), which enabled the Pentagon to release these promised benefits. The Act was eventually signed into law in October as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

More often than not, our staffers are working behind the scenes. They help us prepare for legislative hearings, and help us to make sure that we are up-to-date on the myriad of bills, amendments, and votes that take place in Congress. They help us to manage the correspondence of our constituents and the follow up it takes to address their concerns with relevant agencies. They help us to manage our schedules, and get us to where we need to be, on time.

They are also problem solvers. One of my long-time staffers, Kathryn Anderson, personifies all of the traits it takes to be a good staffer, and she was also essential to helping get the "Respite Leave" allowances for our service members.

I discussed Kathryn's work at my fifth annual "Bruce, Blues and Barbeque" event. Feel free to take a look:

Here's the shortened story behind this process.

In late 2007, my office learned that hundreds of Iowa National Guard troops who had returned home from serving the longest continuous tour of any ground combat unit in Iraq were not being provided with the "Respite Leave" benefits they had been promised by the Pentagon.

Here's where Kathryn stepped in. In October 2007 Kathryn helped to set up a meeting between myself and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, who had the well-earned nickname of "Dr. No." In these meetings I was able to sit across from him and look him directly in the eye to ask why our veterans were being denied the benefits they earned by utilizing a bureaucratic loophole. It was considerably more difficult for the Under Secretary to justify their cost-cutting strategy while across the table from a sitting Congressman.

Due to Kathryn's tireless work ethic, and her work on my behalf, we were able to put the pressure on the DoD, and we were eventually able to build a coalition that helped pass the much needed reforms.

This problem was solved, and hundreds of others just like it are solved every day by congressional staffers. It's a regular occurrence for elected officials to take the credit for these successes, but we almost never work alone.

The next time you are calling a Congressional office, writing a letter to one of our offices, or the next time you see a Congressional staffer, make sure to tell them thanks. I guarantee that they don't hear it enough.

So to all my staffers, past and present, I just wanted to use this opportunity to say Thank You. I look forward to continuing our work on behalf of the people of Iowa, and on behalf of everyone looking for common sense solutions to the tough problems facing our nation.

Bruce Braley is a Democrat representing the First District of Iowa in the U.S. Congress.