Feb 09 2005

Bipartisan Group of Senators and Congressmen Join Graham to Introduce National Guard and Reserve Benefits Legislation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today was joined with by a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressmen to introduce The Guard and Reserve Readiness and Retention Act of 2005. The legislation improves healthcare benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserves by allowing them to enroll in TRICARE for a monthly premium regardless of their activation status. TRICARE is the military healthcare system. In addition, the legislation provides for a decrease in retirement age based on years of service. Under current law, the retirement age is 60. Under the proposal, if an individual serves for 22 years, they are eligible for retirement at 59. An individual entering military service at 18 and serving for 34 years could begin receiving his or her retirement benefits at 53. “This reform package provides better health coverage and a fair retirement system that promotes retention,” said Graham, who serves as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. “It will ensure that Guard and Reserve personnel and their families are justly compensated for their service. The increased demands placed on the men and women who serve this country in a part-time capacity require a modernization of their benefits. We must be sure to take care of every person who puts their life on the line to fight for liberty and freedom throughout the world.” “Guardsmen and Reservists are citizen-soldiers,” said Graham. “Increasingly they are being called up, 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.” “Now is the time to act,” said Graham. “There is momentum in Congress for improving Guard and Reserve benefits, and we need to continue to build on the progress we made last year. The ultimate goal is to provide these men and women with the option to enroll in TRICARE full time.” In October 2004, Graham worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to push into law additional health care benefits for members of the Guard and Reserve. Under that provision, 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. Also included was a provision allowing Guardsmen and Reservists to become eligible for TRICARE upon receiving their activation orders and the ability to remain on the healthcare system for 180 days after they are deactivated. The provision applies to all members of the Guard and Reserve regardless of the length of time activated. “We’re going to continue pushing for better health care benefits for our citizen-soldiers,” said Graham. “The National Guard and Reserves have been called upon more often to help protect this country and defend American interests,” said Graham. “They are playing a vital role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and are an integral part of the war on terrorism. They need to be rewarded and justly compensated for their service to our nation.” ##### Guard and Reserve Readiness and Retention Act of 2005 This bipartisan legislation would promote recruitment, readiness, and retention by offering TRICARE eligibility to members of the Guard and Reserve for a modest monthly premium and by reducing the age at which a Reservist can receive retirement benefits based on his or her years of service. BILL PROVISIONS: RETIREMENT: Currently, Reservists and Guardsmen receive retirement benefits at age 60. With this legislation, however, for every two years of service over twenty, a Guardsman or Reservist would receive benefits one year earlier. For example, after 22 years of service, a member of the Reserve Component would receive benefits at age 59; after 24 years, age 58, and so on. This would promote retention at our most experienced levels of service. HEALTHCARE: Building on last year’s progress in the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, this legislation would offer full-time TRICARE eligibility to members of the Reserve Component for a monthly premium. OUR SECURITY RELIES INCREASINGLY ON A STRONG RESERVE FORCE: The Reserves have played an integral role in every military operation since Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Their overall activity level, measured by annual duty days, has risen from about 1 million in the late 1980s to more than 12 million in every year since 1996. For example, the Reserves have taken charge of the entire peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. In Iraq, Guard and Reserve troops have rotated with active-duty forces, increasing their share of the total U.S. force to about 40 percent. DISPARITY BETWEEN RESERVISTS AND OTHER “PART-TIME” FEDERAL EMPLOYEES New part-time federal employees hired into permanent positions may join the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) at the start of their employment by paying a higher premium. In addition, a part-time federal employee must work a minimum of 16 hours per week to be eligible for healthcare while Reservists, who receive only conditional healthcare until activated, are required to work one weekend per month, two weeks per year, AND be prepared to deploy. We are asking that this disparity be corrected by offering Reservists the same options as other “part-time” federal employees. THE RESERVES FACE A RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION CRISIS: “This is the first extended?duration war our nation has fought with an all?volunteer force,” said [Lt. General James R.] Helmly. “We must be sensitive to that. And we must apply proactive, preventive measures to prevent a recruiting?retention crisis.” [Wash. Post, 01/21/04] “The Army National Guard is 15,000 soldiers below its normal strength and is hoping to make up the difference by September. Last month, the Guard met 56% of its monthly recruiting goal.” [Los Angeles Times, 02/03/05] “Given this implementation (DOD’s current mobilization scheme), DOD could eventually run out of forces.” [General Accounting Office, GAO-05-285T, released 2005] National Guard and Reserve Issues in the News Houston Chronicle January 2, 2005 “With reservists accounting for 40 percent of the U.S. force in Iraq - a percentage expected to slightly increase this year - the National Guard is struggling. It fell about 7,000 soldiers short in 2003 of the 56,000 soldiers needed to maintain a 350,000-soldier force. Last year, the Guard was 10,000 soldiers short and facing an even bigger recruiting goal, 63,000 this year.” Los Angeles Times January 6, 2005 “Given the demands that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed on men and women who had planned on being part-time soldiers, the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements" and is "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," [Lt. Gen. James R.] Helmly wrote. I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern," Helmly said.” Washington Post February 3, 2005 “Massing enough troops for another rotation in Iraq will be ‘painful’ and may eventually require the Pentagon to adopt policies that would extend the two-year limit on the mobilization of reserves, a senior Army leader told Congress yesterday. Right now we have 650,000 soldiers on active duty executing missions worldwide, and many of them have met their 24-month cumulative time, so we'll have to address this," Gen. Richard A. Cody testified before the House Armed Services Committee. Yesterday's testimony underscored a debate brewing in the Pentagon over how to meet the long-term demands of the war on terrorism. The Pentagon now limits reserves to a total of 24 months of active duty, but the Army is considering seeking an extension to allow for longer and more frequent deployments of reservists.” Army Times January 17, 2005 “The Army Reserve has about 200,000 soldiers, and since Sept. 11, 2001, has deployed 65,000 in the global war on terrorism, mainly in Iraq, where it accounts for about 40 percent of all U.S. forces. Meanwhile, a published report said Army leaders want the authority to order some Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers to serve longer and more frequent deployments. The proposed policy would be contingent on making permanent what is supposed to be a temporary increase of 30,000 troops to the active component.”