Jan 28 2004

Graham Continues Fight for Guardsmen and Reservist Benefits

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, this week introduced legislation to benefit members of the National Guard and Reserves. The National Guard and Reserve Readiness and Retention Act is a comprehensive reform bill to modernize healthcare and retirement benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserves. “The increased demands placed on the men and women who serve this country in a part-time capacity require a modernization of their benefits,” said Graham. “Guardsmen and Reservists will soon make up 40 percent of our forces on the ground in Iraq and over the past decade have seen a dramatic increase in the time they spend on active duty. We must be sure to take care of every person that puts their life on the line to fight for liberty and freedom throughout the world.” “We need to take advantage of the momentum that is building in Congress to ensure Guard and Reserve personnel are fairly compensated for their service, said Graham. “The reform package being introduced today provides better health coverage and a more equitable retirement system for these citizen-soldiers.” Provisions included in the bill: Expand Access to Health Care – All Guard and Reserve members and their families would be eligible for health coverage through TRICARE, the military health system, regardless of their mobilization status. Unlike active-duty personnel, reservists would pay a modest annual premium. This change would improve unit readiness and eliminate the need for reservists and their families to change health care providers when mobilized. In the last session of Congress, Graham secured funding for expanded TRICARE eligibility for unemployed reservists and guardsmen and those that are not eligible for health insurance from their employers. He also won concessions to provide TRICARE coverage to all guardsmen and reservists once they received orders to deploy and allowed reservists and guardsmen to stay on TRICARE six months after deployment to ease the transition back to their private insurance. Provide Assistance To Cover Cost of Private Health Insurance Premiums – During periods of mobilization, reservists who opt to maintain private health coverage for their families rather than TRICARE would receive assistance in paying their health insurance premiums. Since families are also called on to sacrifice during mobilizations, this provision is intended to make it easier for them to maintain their existing health coverage and doctors. Enhance Retirement Benefits – Reservists with long careers could begin drawing retirement benefits as early as age 53, rather than the current minimum age of 60. The age for starting benefits would drop one year for every two additional years of honorable service. For example, benefits would start at age 60 for those with 20 years of service and age 59 for those with 22 years of service. “The National Guard and Reserves are increasingly being called upon to help protect our 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. We must take proactive steps to modernize benefits and improve recruitment and retention. Failure to act will result in a bloodletting in the Guard and Reserves, as many will choose to quit when their terms expire. This would have a devastating impact on the American military.” ####