-- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), the only Senator serving in either the National Guard or Reserves, today announced improved healthcare benefits for the more than 1.8 million Guard and Reserve members.
Graham, who maintains his rank as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, passed his provision in the U.S. Senate with help from Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Ted Stevens (R-AK).
The provision, expected to cost $138 million this year, allows Guard and Reservists to enroll in TRICARE, the military health care program. Under current law, members of the Guard and Reserve and their families can only enroll in TRICARE when on active duty.
The Graham/Daschle provision:
- TRI-CARE Buy In: Guard members who are unemployed or whose employers do not offer health insurance would be able to enroll themselves and their families in the military’s TRICARE program on a cost-share basis. A single reservist would pay an annual premium, around 30 percent of the annual cost of providing care, amounting to about $420 annually for single reservists and $1,450 annually for a reservist and his or her family.
- TRICARE Upon Receiving Orders: All Guard members, Reservists and their families would be eligible to enroll in TRICARE as soon as members receive activation orders, as opposed to when they are actually activated. This change will smooth and expedite the transition to active service.
- Extension of TRICARE Eligibility after Demobilization: All Guard members, Reservists, and their families would be able to stay in TRICARE for six months after demobilization.
- Authorization for Additional Medical Screening: The service secretaries are authorized to provide full medical screenings to members of the Guard and Reserves when they receive activation orders.
“I am pleased that the Congress has come together in a bipartisan fashion to improve healthcare for the brave men and women who valiantly serve our country in the Guard and Reserves,” said Graham. “These citizen-soldiers sacrifice to defend our freedom and they deserve to be rewarded. This is an extremely significant step toward repaying their efforts and the first step in what I hope will be an overhaul of the benefit package for our Guardsmen and Reservists.
“This provision demonstrates a growing commitment in Congress to provide continuity of care for Guardsmen and Reservists,” said Graham. “Since 9-11 there has been a seven hundred percent increase in the use of the Guard and Reserve. We have not changed the benefits for these essential military personnel and it’s time we reward them for their service and patriotism.
“Recent deployments have led to one-fourth of all Guard and Reserve members being called to active duty,” said Graham. “The stress on the Guard and Reserve force is beginning to show. The Army National Guard is almost 15 percent short, some 69,000 soldiers, of its recruiting goal. Hopefully this measure will begin to help correct this problem.”
The Iraq supplemental appropriations conference report will be sent back to the House and Senate for final approval and then to the President for his signature.
Major General Richard C. Alexander, president of the National Guard Association of the United States praised the provision. He said, “Today, Congress took a major step toward improving the health readiness of the National Guard and Reserves as well as the health care of individual Guardsmen and Reservists. This is the most significant victory the Guard and Reserves have had in Congress since the passage of the Montgomery GI Bill, and we expect that it will have similar positive impact in recruiting and retention. It should also make it easier to mobilize and demobilize.”