Buchanan Proposal Included in Annual Defense Policy Bill
WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan announced today that a series of sweeping new military training reforms he has been fighting for were included in the House-passed FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The Buchanan amendment, which passed with unanimous support, requires the Pentagon to implement more realistic training practices, develop stricter enforcement standards and ensure better oversight to prevent future military training accidents and deaths.
Buchanan has been a leading advocate in Congress for reforming our current training procedures and improving emergency response capabilities after the tragic death of Army Specialist Nicholas Panipinto of Bradenton. Panipinto died in a vehicle training accident in South Korea in 2019.
“Improving the training capabilities of our armed forces has remained one of my top priorities since the heartbreaking death of my constituent, Nicholas Panipinto,” said Buchanan. “I am pleased to see the House take action and approve my amendment to implement these commonsense proposals to prevent future training accidents and more importantly, save lives.”
In July, a report released from the federal government’s top watchdog, which investigated non-combat tactical vehicle accidents, found that a lack of driver training and failures to properly oversee and implement key safety procedures were largely to blame for several fatal training accidents.
Following this report, Buchanan called on the Pentagon to immediately adopt these recommendations. Buchanan’s amendment, which passed the House this week, requires the Secretary of Defense to implement these proposals across the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force
“These proposals to improve tactical vehicle safety should significantly reduce the risk of future training accidents,” said Buchanan. “However, there is still more to do to ensure no more lives are needlessly lost because of easily preventable military training accidents.”
According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, between 2006 and 2018 a staggering 32 percent of active-duty military deaths were the result of training accidents. During that same period, only 16 percent of service members were killed in action. And in 2017 alone, nearly four times as many service members died in training accidents than were killed in action.
In sworn testimony from the master driver in Panipinto’s unit, who was responsible for training troops on vehicles and administering licenses, the unit’s driver training program was “nonexistent.” The unnamed individual went on to state, “when I took over the program there was nothing, I had no paperwork for any soldiers with licenses. Soldiers came up to me and informed me that the previous master driver just gave them licenses without a 40-hour block of instruction.”
According to Panipinto’s mother, Kimberly Weaver, Panipinto did not have a license, the required amount of driver training or any classroom instruction before beginning his road-test.
“The devastating loss of Nicholas was compounded by the fact that it was totally preventable,” said Kimberly Weaver. “I am hopeful that when implemented these reforms will help prevent another tragic loss. In the meantime, I am forever grateful to Congressman Buchanan for continuing to push for necessary military training reforms to protect service members.”
Last year, Buchanan offered an amendment to the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act that was successfully signed into law. His amendment required the Department of Defense (DoD) to examine emergency response capabilities and services currently available at U.S. bases around the world, and to report to Congress on the potential benefits and feasibility of requiring bases to have properly functioning MedEvac helicopters and fully stocked military ambulances.
In August 2020, Buchanan called on the House Armed Services Committee to hold a public hearing on military training accidents. Buchanan also sent a letter to then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in June 2020 proposing several changes to the training and safety protocols to prevent future deaths.
Additionally, the FY22 NDAA authorizes $768 billion for defense programs, more than $30 billion over last year’s enacted level. It also includes a 2.7 percent pay increase for all troops. Importantly, this year’s NDAA also takes steps to hold China accountable by prohibiting any military funds from going to Chinese Communist Party related entities or for medical research in China.