Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
-- Today, the program that U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) helped create to expand access to health care benefits for reservists goes into effect. In October 2004, the Senators worked to pass a provision in the FY 2005 Ronald Reagan Defense Authorization Bill enabling reservists meeting eligibility requirements to enroll in TRICARE, the military health care system. The Senators hailed the expansion of the program today, but emphasized that there is still more work to be done to provide members of the National Guard and Reserves with the health care benefits they deserve.
The eligibility requirements allow Guardsmen and Reservists who serve on active duty under federal orders for 90 consecutive days or more to 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 (DOD) pays approximately 72 percent and the reservist is responsible for the remaining 28 percent. The costs will be $75 per month for the member-only plan or $233 per month for member and family.
“This is another step forward in our effort to ensure that every member of the Selected-Reserve and their families have year-round access to military health care,” said Graham, the only U.S. Senator currently serving in a Guard or Reserve unit. “Providing health care will be a tremendous benefit, as almost one-fifth of Guardsmen and Reservists do not have health care in the private sector.”
“Today marks an important stride forward in expanding eligibility for TRICARE military health benefits to our Guard members and Reservists and their families,” said Clinton. “But more work needs to be done to ensure that our Guard and Reserve have access to the health care benefits they need and deserve.”
Under the old rules, members of the Reserve Component and their families were eligible for TRICARE only while on active duty.
“Guardsmen and Reservists are the only part-time federal employees who are currently ineligible for federal government full-time health care benefits,” said Graham. “It’s my goal, in a bipartisan manner, to alleviate this inequity. This program we helped push into law last year takes another step toward that goal.”
“When Senator Graham and I visited our troops in Iraq we saw first hand that the role of our Guard and Reserve has changed. They are taking on significant responsibility, playing critically important roles both overseas and in homeland security,” said Clinton. “We need to give them the support they need to be successful and the program being launched today helps move us in that direction.”
In February, Graham and Clinton introduced legislation (S.337, The Guard and Reserve Readiness Retention Act of 2005) to further expand 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.
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.
“We’re going to continue pushing for a better benefit package 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. 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. Our proposal will also help in our recruiting and retention efforts.”
“Under our bill, if you are a member of the National Guard or Reserves, you and your family have access to health care,” said Clinton. “We believe this is the right thing to do for our Guard and Reserves and a smart thing to do as we rely on the reserve component to make up a significant part of our military operations.”