House passes defense bill with amendment aimed at improving EMS on bases

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act was championed by the family Army Spc. Nicholas Panipinto, who died last year in a training accident


Carlos R. Munoz
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — The family of a Bradenton soldier killed last year in a tragic military training accident is ecstatic that an amendment requiring the Pentagon to examine emergency medical services on U.S. bases is included in a defense spending bill that cleared the House Tuesday.

The House of Representatives voted 335-78 to pass the $750.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act with the soldier safety amendment proposed by Congressman Vern Buchanan attached.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the National Defense Authorization Act with an amendment by Rep. Vern Buchanan aimed at improving emergency medical services on U.S. military bases. Buchanan introduced the amendment after speaking with the family of Army Spc. Nicholas Panipinto, who died in a training accident in November 2019.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the National Defense Authorization Act with an amendment by Rep. Vern Buchanan aimed at improving emergency medical services on U.S. military bases. Buchanan introduced the amendment after speaking with the family of Army Spc. Nicholas Panipinto, who died in a training accident in November 2019. (Photo/Rep. Vern Buchanan)

Kimberly Weaver, the mother of Spc. Nicholas Panipinto — who died last year when his armored fighting vehicle overturned during training — says she is thankful the measure was included but appalled that it has taken so long to address the problem.

"It's crazy to me that they don't already have these things in place," Weaver said. "Especially, when the military knows that training accidents or noncombat accidents happen at a higher rate. They know this information. They do their own reviews. It's appalling to me that no one has figured that out yet. If we are going to send our service members somewhere, there should be medical facilities before there are golf courses."

In November 2019, Panipinto, 20, died in a training accident at Camp Humphreys in South Korea when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle overturned during a road test. He had received only six hours of training and no classroom instruction on the vehicle.

He was killed when the track on the right side of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle came off, causing the 15-ton, lightly armored transport to roll over. A lack of emergency services on base and delays in medical response were cited in his death.

Weaver went to Buchanan's office to ask for help.

Buchanan responded with calls for a public hearing on the frequency of military training accidents and proposed the amendment to review safety measures at U.S. bases.

The House approved Buchanan's amendment to the NDAA in July.

"The highest tribute that can be paid to the life of Specialist Panipinto is for the Defense Department to ensure that future military personnel who are injured during training exercises can quickly receive high-quality medical treatment that might help save their lives," Buchanan said in a news release. "I am deeply humbled that Nick's mother came to me with their tragic story and has allowed me to help. I know that these reforms will save lives and prevent future heartache felt by families like hers across the country."

Buchanan's amendment requires the Department of Defense to examine emergency response capabilities and services available at all U.S. bases around the world. They will be required to address the potential benefits and practicality to have properly functioning medical helicopters and fully stocked military ambulances.

The U.S. House initially passed the NDAA in July, with Buchanan's amendment included, and the Senate followed suit, passing its own separate version. But the House and Senate then had to reconcile their competing versions and produce a final version.

The final agreement is now expected to pass the Senate in the coming days and head to the President's desk.

"I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO. Must include a termination of Section 230 (for National Security purposes), preserve our National Monuments, & allow for 5G & troop reductions in foreign lands!" Trump said on Twitter.

The president's veto could be overridden if it is sent back to Congress.

Weaver said lawmakers are confident the bill will be signed.

"This isn't just a win for our family, but for every military family," Weaver said. "We are so thankful to Congressman Buchanan for all of his help in getting these necessary changes one step closer to being signed into law."

Deaths during training exercises have risen dramatically in recent years.

In 2017 alone, nearly four times as many service members died in training accidents than were killed in combat, said Buchanan, who has repeatedly called for changes to military training procedures after Panipinto's death.

In addition to calling for the House Armed Services Committee to hold a public hearing on military training accidents, he sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper proposing a number of changes to the military's current training and safety protocols to prevent future deaths.

"We were just all so in shock that this could happen to begin with," Weaver said. "On so many levels, there were a lot of failures. We were just happy that we have been taken seriously. It will save lives moving forward.

"After this, we will cross that off the list and keep moving forward."

Weaver is among a group of American Gold Star Mothers who are advocating for military training reform.

"We try and get in touch with families after accidents," Weaver said. "We let them know they need to contact their congressman. The more people that joined our horrible club no one wants to be in, the more we can get political figures to work together to get things passed."

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(c)2020 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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