, – Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) National President Joseph L. Maez presented Representative Walter B. Jones (N.C.) with the Association's prestigious Pinnacle Award at a special reception on Capitol Hill yesterday.
FRA established the Pinnacle Award in 1996 to honor members of Congress who have championed legislative initiatives to improve the quality of life for active duty, reserve and retired Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel and their families.
"The Association has worked closely with Rep. Jones over the years. He has been, and continues to be, a steadfast champion for military personnel and the benefits they receive," exclaimed Maez. "He is a staunch ally, and appreciates the important enlisted perspective on issues being addressed on Capitol Hill."
FRA selected Rep. Jones to receive its 2003 award in recognition of his unwavering support of our nation's men and women in uniform. His strong commitment to military personnel and dedication to advancing their interests in Congress is reflected in his legislative record. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Jones helped advance a number of FRA-supported initiatives. He sponsored a bill in 2000 to reform pay tables for military personnel in grades E-5 through E-7. Based on an FRA pay study, the legislation led to the implementation of pay reform for mid-career noncommissioned officers and petty officers, and helped build support for subsequent targeted pay hikes for senior enlisted personnel.
Earlier this year, Jones introduced "The Military Retiree Dislocation Assistance Act" (H.R. 995) that would authorize the payment of dislocation allowances to members of the Armed Forces retiring or transferring to the Fleet Reserve or Fleet Marine Corps Reserve Force – a recommendation originally made by senior enlisted Marines and championed by FRA in the 107th Congress. He launched another Association-recommended proposal to offer some survivors financial assistance upon the demise of the military retiree. Jones' bill, the "Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act" (H.R. 2944), would authorize a surviving spouse to retain the deceased retiree's final retirement check if electronically deposited in a joint account. Jones also co-sponsored legislation to reform the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) by changing the effective date for paid-up SBP coverage from October 1, 2008, to October 1, 2003.
An honorary member of FRA Branch 208 in Jacksonville, N.C., Jones worked to improve military education benefits by sponsoring a bill now being considered in Congress that would alter the current enrollment fee structure for Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) participants; from $100 for each of the first 12 months to $50 for each of the first 24 months. The bill would allow individuals who choose not to enroll for MGIB benefits during basic training the option do so at the end of the first period of obligated service – either when leaving the service or when re-enlisting. It would also allow active duty service members who did not enroll in the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) an additional open season to enroll in the MGIB program.
In a more recent effort to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude from gross income certain death gratuity payments to members of the uniformed services, Jones introduced "The Military Death Gratuity Improvement Act 2003." Under current law, half of the $6,000 death gratuity payment made to families of deceased soldiers is taxable. His bill would restore tax-exempt status for the full death gratuity payment.
Jones, an original co-sponsor of concurrent receipt legislation (H.R. 303), continues his unwavering support for our nation's veterans. He recently signed a discharge petition that would bring the legislation directly to the House floor for debate if House leaders fail to address it in the near future. This is a priority issue for FRA, and the Association has vigorously fought for authorization of full concurrent receipt for more than a decade through its grassroots efforts and support of legislative initiatives.
Jones has represented North Carolina's 3rd District since 1994. His district is home to more than 63,000 veterans and military retirees, including service members and their families stationed at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station and Naval Aviation Depot, New River Marine Corps Air Station, Elizabeth City Coast Guard Air Station, the Coast Guard Aircraft Repair and Service Center, and Coast Guard Cape Hatteras.
A resident of Farmville, N.C., Jones served in the National Guard and as an elected member of the North Carolina General Assembly prior to his election to Congress.
Past recipients of the Pinnacle Award include Senators Strom Thurmond, Ted Stevens, John McCain and John Warner, and Representatives Sonny Montgomery, Owen Pickett and Ike Skelton.
The federally chartered FRA is celebrating its 80th Anniversary as the oldest and largest professional military association representing the concerns of Sea Service personnel. FRA operates as the premier watchdog organization for safeguarding and enhancing military pay, health care and benefits by representing the concerns of its 130,000 members before Congress and appropriate federal agencies. For more information about FRA, visit the Association's web site at www.fra.org.