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Gates, Mullen protect family programs from cuts

Mullen uses Joint Base Lewis-McChord as example

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifies in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee June 15. /DoD photo

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WASHINGTON (AFNS) - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the service chiefs to "fence" two areas in the budget options the military is contemplating: training and family programs.

"I don't want any money taken out of those," he told the Senate Appropriations Committee June 15.

Secretary Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the nation has an obligation to take care of those service members wounded physically and mentally in the wars.

Secretary Gates said he has moved money for wounded warriors from the supplemental requests and overseas contingency funds.

"All of that money has been shifted into the base budget, knowing that we will deal with this problem for many, many years to come," he said. "So for our part, in addition to (Veterans Affairs), we have tried to make sure that the funds for these programs have been protected and will be protected in the future."

Admiral Mullen said the country is just now starting to understand the costs of the wars.

He used Joint Base Lewis-McChord as an example, saying that many of the Servicemembers at that base have deployed, some multiple times.

"Many of those units have had only a year between deployments up to now," he said. "Now, they're going to have two, and I think they've been compartmentalizing challenges, and they're going to start unpacking that. And it's going to be pretty tough now that we're back home."

The military health system and the Veterans Affairs department need to get at traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress now, the admiral said.

"The more quickly we get at the problem, the less likely the damage, or the damage is reduced significantly, and yet there's still a great deal on the TBI side that we don't understand," he said.

Admiral Mullen said the relationship between the Defense Department, VA and the civilian communities must get stronger to take care of these men and women.

He called on senators to protect the money to care for wounded Servicemembers.

"When we get into budget crunches like this, this incredible amount of money that we put into family programs, into medical research, it's some of the first money that budget types like to take out historically," he said. "We like airplanes before we would keep our family programs intact, and that's something the secretary of defense and I have talked about."

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