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Minnesota National Guard
Editorial: State takes lead in fixing military snafu

  • Updated: May 18, 2012 - 7:25 PM
Congressional delegation pushes to restore promised time off

It shouldn't take an act of Congress to undo a bureaucratic mistake that reduced soldiers' paid time off once they arrived back home But it did, and it's a credit to Minnesota that its entire congressional delegation led the legislative charge for change

Republican Rep John Kline and Democratic Sen Amy Klobuchar, in particular, have displayed strong leadership since the Pentagon snafu surfaced last fall involving a program designed to ease tired, stressed military personnel back into everyday life

Their bipartisan teamwork was a key ingredient in this week's passage of legislation in the US House and Senate that will restore time-off benefits for about 49,000 military personnel across the nation, including about 2,000 in Minnesota

"Minnesota has always cared for our troops This is another example,'' said Klobuchar on Thursday shortly after her bill cleared the Senate Kline's bill went through the House on Tuesday Every other member of Minnesota's congressional delegation signed on as cosponsors to the legislation

Troops affected by this ill-advised policy change are returning from deployments every day Any further delay means that more of them are caught up in this paid-leave mess and will need to have their situations straightened out retroactively

Kline and Klobuchar have urged President Obama to move expeditiously, even if it means foregoing a bill-signing ceremony Arranging one could have taken five to 10 days While both are up for reelection this fall and could have benefited from the White House hobnobbing and bipartisan photo opportunity, they recognized it was more important for the bill to be signed into law as soon as possible

Congress deserves thanks for addressing this issue, but it's still troubling that it had to get involved The Pentagon needs to update its personnel policies from time to time

But this change was blatantly unfair to deployed troops Many of them, such as Minnesota's Red Bulls, have served multiple or extended stints overseas

What the Pentagon did is send them abroad with one set of rules about paid time off Mid-deployment, it announced a new policy with reduced benefits

Military officials should have realized that they'd made a mistake and were reneging on a promise to troops Those currently deployed should have been "grandfathered" into the new policy and given the benefits they'd been told they would earn

The Pentagon still hasn't explained why it changed the policy Department of Defense officials on Thursday declined an editorial writer's request for further details Given national concerns about veterans' post-traumatic stress disorder and their difficulty finding jobs, defense officials should have to make a very strong public case for reducing paid, post-deployment leave

This time cushion is vital to veterans and their families and is a much-deserved investment in their future Matthew Hite of the Minnesota National Guard recently returned from 10 months in Kuwait after previously serving in Afghanistan and Kosovo

He lost 26 days of paid leave under the policy change When it's restored, he hopes to spend it playing catch in Maplewood with his 7-year-old son, Charles, and maybe visiting Disneyland Said Hite: "I just want the most time possible to spend with him''
Readers, what do you think? To offer an opinion considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please fill out this form Follow us on Twitter @StribOpinion and Facebook at facebook.com/StribOpinion
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