By Rick Maze
Air Force Times
January 28, 2009
Just as talk gets serious about cutting U.S. troop levels in Iraq, Congress also appears to be getting serious about providing limited free mailing privileges so that letters and small packages can be sent by friends and family to deployed service members.
Two free military mail bills were introduced in the House on Tuesday. One, HR 704, is the reintroduction of a bill sponsored by Reps. Peter King of New York and Gus Bilirakis of Florida, both Republicans, that previously won support in the House as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill but was rejected in negotiations with the Senate.
That bill likely will be pushed aside in favor of a second, broader bill, HR 707, introduced by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has a collection of 103 bipartisan co-sponsors — including Bilirakis — for her legislation.
Castor is calling her bill the Home Front to Heroes Postal Benefits Act.
In a letter to other members of the House seeking co-sponsors, Castor said the government already provides free mail from combat zones, so service members don’t need postage to write home, but there is no corresponding benefit for mail sent from the home front to the troops.
“Military families, many of them in financial distress, are forced to bear the expense of shipping packages and letters on their own,” she said.
Castor’s bill would provide one voucher each month good for mailing a package of up to 15 pounds from the U.S. to a deployed service member. A voucher would be issued each month to the member, who could give it to anyone they choose.
Vouchers would not have to be used in the same month or even the same year as they are issued, and they would not even have to be used to send mail to the same service member who received them. Troops could donate their vouchers to charities that could use them to send packages to someone else, Castor said.
Vouchers would be issued to members deployed overseas or to those hospitalized as a result of injuries or disease incurred in an overseas operation. Castor’s bill also applies to any overseas operation, while the King-Bilirakis bill would be limited to troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Both HR 704 and HR 707 were referred to the House Armed Services Committee, which traditionally does not pass many separate bills, but rather prefers to combine such proposals into the larger annual defense authorization bill, which sets policy for military programs.
The 2010 version of that defense bill will be approved by the committee later this year.