Support Grows for Ernst’s Female Body Armor Bill

Additional senators from both parties join on to Ernst’s bipartisan bill, which supports solutions to issues of inadequate and ill-fitting equipment among female servicemembers

WASHINGTON—Support continues to grow for U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s (R-IA) bipartisan bill to ensure body armor and personal protective equipment (PPE) is adequate, properly-fitted, and readily available for female servicemembers. In recent weeks, Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have joined on as cosponsors to the proposal led by Ernst, a combat veteran.

“As a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom, I understand firsthand the importance of providing our female servicemembers with the proper equipment to ensure their readiness, survivability, and effectiveness in combat, especially as women continue to play increasingly important roles in our nation’s military,” said Senator Ernst, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. “The growing bipartisan support for this legislation demonstrates just how important and commonsense it is, and I’m hopeful this momentum will lead to getting it across the finish line.”

Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are original cosponsors of Ernst’s legislation.

“When I served this nation overseas, I experienced firsthand how our military’s body armor and protective equipment hasn’t always been constructed with the health and comfort of female servicemembers in mind,” said Senator Duckworth. “It’s time we enhance troop readiness by helping make sure female servicemembers are properly equipped for combat and I’m glad to see more of my colleagues sign on to this important bipartisan bill.”

“More and more women are answering the call to serve in our military, but they are being put at risk of injury due to ill-fitting equipment,” said Senator McSally. “As a combat veteran, I understand that the right equipment can make the difference between life and death. This bill would equip our female service members with the body armor they need to defend our nation.”

“Our bill would ensure that the women bravely serving our country have appropriately fitting body equipment which can literally save their lives,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our female servicemembers have been forced to wear body armor that simply doesn’t fit them, increasing their risk of injuries, fatigue, and physical discomfort. Properly fitted equipment is fundamental when training or serving in a war zone. It is critical in minimizing the exposure of our servicemembers against whatever they may encounter during their military service and it is plain common-sense that our female fighters are provided this important safeguard.”

“We need to make sure that every American servicemember is well equipped in order to stay safe as they defend our freedoms, and addressing the lack of proper body armor for female servicemembers is essential to fulfilling that obligation,” said Senator Tillis. “I’m proud to co-sponsor this bipartisan legislation led by Senator Ernst to ensure the body armor and protective equipment female servicemembers need and deserve is readily available.”

“Our servicemembers are tough, smart, and committed to defending our country,” said Senator Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. “But too often, women servicemembers have ill-fitting or malfunctioning body armor, which undermines military readiness.  I’m proud to support this bipartisan bill that would ensure all our servicemembers have the highest quality personal protective equipment.”

“Women who serve in our military and sacrifice to protect our freedoms deserve to have the body armor and protective equipment they need to be successful warfighters and that helps prevent injuries. I’m proud to cosponsor the bipartisan Body Armor for Females Modernization Act and hope the Senate will act soon to pass this commonsense legislation,” said Senator Peters, a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Representatives Joe Wilson (SC-02), Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Trent Kelly (MS-01), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Elise Stefanik (NY-21), and Steve Stivers (OH-15) have introduced a similar measure in the House of Representatives.

Background:

Recent reports by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) have shown that access to female-specific PPE and smaller sized PPE was severely limited and only issued to some women who were deploying and not to any females during initial entry training (IET) or in regular unit environments. In addition, their research has shown that poorly-fitting PPE is a leading cause of injury for all servicemembers, those who are deployed and in training. While the service branches have been working to make improvements to achieve the proper protection and fit for PPE for all servicemembers, including females and small statured males, there is still work to be done to ensure all military members are adequately equipped both during training and in combat.

Senator Ernst’s Female Body Armor Modernization Act of 2019 would:

  • Encourage the Services to expedite the contracting, procuring, and fielding of new generation PPE that better fits and protects all servicemembers, to include females, and reduces preventable injuries.
  • Encourage collaboration with academia and industry, utilizing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, human factors modeling, and digital predictive human modeling to develop the next generation of combat equipment and PPE.
  • Require the Services to submit a report to Congress in the 2021 Fiscal Year concerning any barriers that they have encountered when fielding their newest versions of PPE to servicemembers. The report would include any cost overruns or contractor delays in fielding this new equipment to servicemembers.
  • Require the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to begin administering a trackable system for data input related to injuries to accompany the issuance of new PPE. This could be done through an already-existing system such as the Defense Occupational and Environmental Health Readiness System (DOEHRS).
  • Require DHA to provide a report to Congress in the 2025 Fiscal Year identifying the prevalence of preventable injuries attributed to ill-fitting or malfunctioning PPE.
  • Require the DoD to include questions in the annual Periodic Health Assessment (PHA) on whether Servicemembers incurred an injury in connection with ill-fitting or malfunctioning PPE.

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