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Hooley calls on Pentagon to pay for soldier's protective gear

In Washington, D.C., Representative Darlene Hooley has renewed her proposal for a bill that would direct the Pentagon to reimburse soldiers serving in Iraq who purchase helmet padding which is superior to their standard-issue gear.

'I've re-introduced the bill and Ike Skelton, who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has expressed his support,' said Hooley. 'So far, we have 44 co-sponsors for this piece of legislation, and we haven't been very active in seeking them out.'

Hooley brought forward a similar measure last year, but the session ended without the bill being passed into law, so the process must begin again.

'I introduced this after talking to the soldiers and their families,' Hooley said. 'Traumatic brain injury is the number one injury in this war.'

Worn under a soldier's helmet, the padding helps reduce the amount of energy transferred to a soldier's head by a bomb blast or other traumatic event. Last year, the Department of Defense lowered the standard, making injuries more likely - even though padding better than the original standard is available at a modest price: $20 to $30 per set, according to Hooley.

'We're looking at passing this either through the National Defense Authorization Act, or as a piece of stand-alone legislation,' she said. 'The Pentagon has not changed its mind on this issue.'

Along with Earl Blumenauer, Hooley voted to oppose the initial measure authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. The pair also voted in favor of the recent non-binding resolution voicing opposition to the president's troop buildup in Baghdad.

Debate is now underway regarding a $90 billion supplemental spending package to fund ongoing operations in Iraq.

'Right now, there are a lot of questions about exactly what that funding package will be,' said Hooley. 'We have to be sure that every person serving in Iraq is as safe as possible until they can come home.

'We are trying to work out the details: we want to make sure we support our troops, but not necessarily give the administration carte blanc on the surge.'

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, himself a decorated combat veteran, has proposed strict rules governing the time soldiers spend at home between combat tours and mandating training prior to deployment, which Hooley is considering giving her support.

'He's only trying to enforce the existing military standards,' she said. 'You have to be home for a year before you go back, and you have to be trained to a certain level - he's trying to make sure those rules are being followed.

'I'm waiting to see what the outcome is before I decide on my position. Everything is in flux right now.'

Addressing the overall conduct of the war, Hooley said: 'I would like to see us begin some real diplomacy in the Middle East. The entire region has a stake in what happens over there. I think we need the help of all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.'

'On the question of the president's surge of 22,000 troops, we've done that twice before, and it hasn't worked. I think it was Einstein who said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.'