Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-South Carolina) drive to help citizen-soldiers receive better health care benefits received a big boost this week. Twice the U.S. Senate voted to provide TRICARE, the military health care benefit, to members of the National Guard and Reserves regardless of their activation status.
Today, the U.S. Senate passed 98-0 the defense appropriations bill funding reservists’ benefits, including a temporary expansion of the TRICARE program to members of the Guard and Reserve. On Wednesday, the Senate passed 97-0 its version of the defense authorization bill, including a Graham amendment making Guardsmen and Reservists eligible for the program.
“I’m pleased the Senate agreed to the important change in the benefits package for members of the Guard and Reserve,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is the first time the Senate has appropriated money to expand TRICARE to all members of the Guard and Reserve, regardless of their activation status. We’ve had overwhelming votes in support of giving our reservists better health care benefits. We’ve got more work to do before this becomes law, but this week was a very productive one in moving the bill forward.”
“We’re calling upon the Guard and Reserve at the same tempo level we did during World War II,” said Graham. “On a percentage basis, it’s even greater. So now is the time to increase benefits for Guard and Reserve members.”
Members of the guard and reserves would be eligible to enroll in TRICARE for a modest annual premium regardless of their deployment status. Premiums would be about $530/year for individual coverage and $1,860/year for families. When fully phased in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the provision would assist more than 300,000 reservists and their family members.
Graham said that in Iraq Guardsman and Reservists have rotated with the active-duty forces, increasing the reserve component share of the total U.S. forces to more than 40 percent. The reserves have also been charged with taking control of the entire peacekeeping mission in the Balkans.
“Better health care benefits will help our recruiting, readiness and retention efforts,” said Graham. “They need it and I think based upon what they have been asked to do, particularly since 9/11, they’ve earned it. We’re going to continue to fight for better benefits for them.”
“Guardsmen and Reservists are citizen-soldiers,” said Graham. “Increasingly they are being called up to duty, taken away from their work and families, and being sent to far-away lands for long tours of duty. We need to ensure the benefits they are receiving are equal to the sacrifice they are making to protect our country and interests around the world.”
The Senate will now go to conference with the House of Representatives on both the Defense Authorization and Defense Appropriations bills.