Wes Hickman (202 224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864 250-1417)
-- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today announced he will redouble his efforts on a plan to improve the healthcare benefits of National Guard and Reserve personnel by allowing them to enroll in TRICARE, the military health program.
Under current law, members of the Guard and Reserve and their families can only enroll in TRICARE when called to active duty.
The Graham provision would allow Guardsmen and Reservist to enroll themselves and their family in TRICARE at any time, assuring continuity of health coverage and access to the family’s doctors when the service member is activated. The premium would be low, would reduce out of pocket expenses for the reservist, and would be an incentive for employers to hire Guardsmen and Reservists.
“The country is demanding more from these brave men and women, so we should do more for them,” said Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. “On my recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, I saw first hand the significant presence of the Guard and Reserves and the impact they have on operations in the War on Terror. All of our air crews in the theater were National Guard and 90 percent of the civil affairs staff are Reservists. The same holds true for the military police, whose role is not only to protect our troops, but also train Iraqi police forces.”
“This provision allows every Guard and Reserve family to have continuous access to high-quality, affordable health care, a large step in improving recruiting and retention,” said Graham.
A similar provision passed the Senate earlier this year as an amendment to the 2004 Defense Authorization by an overwhelming vote of 85-10.
“Since 9-11 there has been a seven hundred percent increase in the use of Guard and Reserve personnel,” said Graham. “We have not changed the benefits for these essential military personnel. It’s time we reward them for their service and patriotism, and make service to their country more attractive and fair.
“I appreciate the strong support of my Republican and Democratic colleagues in pushing this provision through,” said Graham. “I will continue to work with Senators from both sides of the aisle in what is truly a bipartisan effort.”
Graham noted there is also a need to modernize the retirement system in the Guard and Reserves. He recommends reducing the eligible retirement age by one year for every two years a member serves after twenty years of honorable service. Under the Graham plan, if an individual serves for 22 years, they are eligible for retirement at 59. An individual entering military service at 18 and serving for 36 years could retire at 52.
“Providing these two benefits together would show our appreciation and responsiveness to the changing needs of our Guardsmen and Reservists.”