Oct 09 2004

Congress Approves Expanded Medical Benefits for Members of Guard and Reserve

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Tom Daschle (D-SD), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) today announced Congress has approved a plan to expand TRICARE benefits for members of the Guard and Reserve and their families. TRICARE is the military health system. The program was included in the FY2005 Ronald Reagan Defense Authorization Bill. “This is another step forward in our effort to ensure that every Guard and Reserve member and their family have year-round access to military health care,” said Graham, the only U.S. Senator to currently serve in a Guard or Reserve unit. “It’s sad but true that a significant number of Guard and Reserve members called to active duty are unable to serve because of medical problems. Guardsmen and Reservists are the only part-time federal employees who are currently ineligible for federal government full-time health care benefits. It’s my goal, in a bipartisan manner, to alleviate this inequity and this bill takes another step toward that goal.” "I was proud to work with Senator Graham and this bipartisan group to move forward toward the ultimate goal of permanent access to affordable health coverage for Guard members, reservists, and their families. We have made much progress on behalf of those troops who are defending this country--and we will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to build on this success," Senator Daschle said. "In my home state of South Dakota, 90 percent of Guard members, roughly 4,000 men and women, have been mobilized since September 11. Because of this legislation, they now will be eligible for benefits from the military health program." “For too long we have neglected the healthcare needs of the Reservists and National Guardsmen who stand ready to accept the call of duty," Senator DeWine said. "By extending TRICARE coverage that we secured for unemployed and uninsured members of the Reserve Component, we are easing the strain of deployment on Service members and their families and increasing readiness of our troops.” “After fits and starts, we are finally getting a TRICARE health insurance program underway for the men and women of our Guard and Reserves,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT.), co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus. “We are asking our Guard and Reserves to do more at home and abroad, and we need to do our part to meet their basic needs. When our troops and their families are healthy, our entire military is stronger, and that’s why affordable health insurance is both a critical readiness issue and a fairness issue. Now we have achieved a program for reservists who have already been mobilized, and I hope we can soon expand this program to other reservists.” “I applaud this expanded TRICARE provision which will provide healthcare coverage for our reserve service members for an extended period of time after they are deployed," said Chambliss. "Health care is the single benefit that means and matters the most to members of the Reserve Components, and I am proud to play a part in expanding this benefit for all Guardsmen and Reservists.” "Members of the National Guard, in New York and elsewhere, are serving their country with honor and distinction and making incredible sacrifices. TRICARE for Guard and reserve members is an idea whose time has come," Senator Clinton said. "This bill is a positive step towards providing them and their families with insurance coverage and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the future to take further steps toward that goal." The program significantly increases the length of time that eligible Reservists are able to receive TRICARE coverage. Under the new eligibility requirements, Guardsmen and Reservists who serve on active duty under federal orders for 90 consecutive days will be eligible for one year of TRICARE coverage. For every additional 90 days of service they will be eligible for an additional year of health care coverage. The Department of Defense will pay 72 percent of the cost and the reservist will be responsible for paying the remaining 28 percent. Currently, members of the Reserve Component and their families are eligible for TRICARE only while on active duty. In August, Congress approved funding to provide enhanced TRICARE benefits to guardsmen and reservists. The details of the program were negotiated over the past several months, resulting in the program approved today. “The goal next year will be to appropriate the proper funding amount to allow every member of the Guard or Reserve to participate in TRICARE,” said Graham. “It will help retention, readiness and be a long overdue benefit upgrade.” Also included in the bill is a provision that continues the expansion of pre-and-post deployment eligibility guidelines for TRICARE the Senators championed last year. Guardsmen and Reservists become eligible for TRICARE upon receiving their activation orders and can remain on the healthcare system for 180 days after they are deactivated. This provision applies to all members of the Guard and Reserve regardless of the length of time activated. “Providing health care will be a tremendous benefit, as one-fifth of Guardsmen and Reservists do not have health care in the private sector,” said Graham. “Of all the issues I have worked on this has achieved the most bipartisan support. When Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, Pat Leahy, Mike DeWine, Saxby Chambliss and I -- representing every end of the political spectrum -- come together, that shows the broad appeal of this issue.” The bill will now be sent to President Bush for his signature. The Department of Defense will then have 180 days to locate and notify eligible Guardsmen and Reservists. ####