Murkowski bill aims to improve mental health, finances for military serving in Alaska
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on June 9 sponsored bicameral, bipartisan legislation that would better support members of the U.S. Armed Forces assigned to cold weather operations in Alaska.
“After hearing directly from service members stationed in Alaska, it was clear that action is needed to address hardships they face while moving to and living in our state,” Sen. Murkowski said. “The Don Young Arctic Warrior Act … will help address financial challenges and adjustment to living in Alaska, while also improving access to mental health providers.”
The Don Young Arctic Warrior Act, S. 4375, which is cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), also has been offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, which will be considered this week in the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) on June 9 also introduced the identical bill, H.R. 8023, in her chamber.
If enacted, S. 4375 would authorize that service members receive special monthly pay — known as arctic pay — of $300 per month. This special pay would be in addition to any other pay or allowance to which a member is entitled, according to the text of the bill.
The bill also would authorize that these service members receive an internet allowance of $125 per month for the first year after the bill’s enactment to address the discrepancy in cost in Alaska, the bill says.
Additionally, S. 4375 would increase the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) ability to address the shortfall of behavioral health providers by establishing a graduate program in counseling and social work at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Murkowski’s office, and would provide for scholarships and retention bonuses for those serving in the behavioral health field.
“We must do more to solve the suicide crisis our military faces,” Sen. Murkowski said. “We have learned that financial stress is a major contributor to suicidal ideation, but in Alaska, many service members don’t have anywhere to turn for help.”
Among numerous other provisions, the bill also would provide military members who are E-5 and below with access to one free flight home during a three-year tour; establish a car-sharing pilot program for two years at a military installation in Alaska; and authorize the Secretary of Defense to provide retention bonuses for clinical psychologists, social workers and counselors up to $50,000 annually, according to the summary.
S. 4375 is named for U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) who died in March. At the time of his death, Rep. Young was the longest-serving Republican in congressional history, having been the U.S. representative for Alaska’s at-large congressional district for 49 years.
“Our legislation recognizes the critical role that Arctic Warriors play in the defense of our nation and alleviates some of the hardships that are associated with living in such a remote and austere location,” Sen. Murkowski said. “It reflects our strong commitment to military members, their families, and their futures, and I hope Congress will agree to move quickly on it.”