Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today hailed unanimous Senate passage of his measure to expand access to healthcare benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve. The initiative, which has gained widespread support in the Senate, cuts across party and ideological lines as it has drawn support from Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives. The Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, John Warner (R-VA), also expressed strong support for the legislation on the floor of the Senate.
The expansion, which passed as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill, extends TRICARE to all drilling members of the Guard and Reserve regardless of whether they are on active duty or not. Reservists would be required to pay modest monthly premiums.
Graham has worked with U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Norm Coleman (R-MN), George Allen (R-VA) and others to expand access to TRICARE benefits for Guard and Reserve members and their families. In October 2004, Senator Graham sponsored legislation that was part of the approved Department of Defense Authorization bill, which provided an extension of one additional year of TRICARE eligibility to Guard and Reserve members for every 90 days the Reservist or Guardsman serves.
This expanded eligibility program went into effect in April 2005. The amendment passed today further expands eligibility by lifting the 90 day cap and allowing any drilling reservists to buy into TRICARE at any time.
“Guardsmen and Reservists are the only part-time federal employees who are currently ineligible for federal government full-time health care benefits,” said Graham, a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. “We’re going to continue pushing for a better benefit package for our citizen-soldiers.
“The National Guard and Reserves are playing a vital role in Iraqi and Afghanistan and are an integral part of the war on terrorism,” said Graham. “Our proposal will also help in our lagging recruiting and retention efforts.”
The TRICARE efforts have gained support from many groups including the National Guard Association of the United States, the Reserve Officers Association, and the National Governors Association.
The legislation now goes to a House-Senate conference for consideration.