DeFazio Appalled House Acts Against Troops
May 25, 2005
On Memorial Day Eve, Partisan Vote Denies NG and Reserves Adequate Health Insurance
WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield) in a statement today admonished his Republican colleagues for denying passage of an amendment to provide National Guard and Reserve members access to TRICARE on a permanent basis for the duration of their service. The amendment which failed last night on a party-line vote was offered to the Fiscal Year 2006 Department of Defense Authorization Act. Following is DeFazio's statement:
"Next Monday is Memorial Day. Yet, in my opinion, a majority in the House of Representatives besmirched that day with this vote. A majority, a partisan majority, on a near party-line vote, rejected the idea that our National Guard troops deserve health insurance while they are serving our country.
"The Republican leadership determined that health care coverage 90 days before deployment and 180 days after they return is adequate. Yet many Guard members fail to qualify for deployment because of existing and pre-existing medical problems.
"In an extraordinary statement, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said the Guard and Reserves all have health insurance at their jobs. What jobs? Fifty percent of the Oregon Guard unit that just came back from Iraq do not have jobs, and they have very limited health insurance that is going to run out pretty darn soon because of that vote.
"They are probably going to be sent back to Afghanistan next year, but in the interim, we cannot afford health insurance for those young men and women and their families? That is outrageous.
"The chairman also talked eloquently about the need to replace 16-year-old helicopters. What about the 22-year-old Guardsman who does not have a job, just came back from Iraq, whose health insurance is going to expire this summer, who has a wife and a kid and a struggling economy in Oregon and cannot get health insurance through our State because of cutbacks in Medicaid? We cannot afford health insurance for that young family? But we are going to ask him to go back to Afghanistan next year?
"We may need to buy some new helicopters, but those helicopters are just a pile of metal without the soldiers who make them work. It does not matter if they are 1 month old, 1 year old, or 16 years old; without those dedicated troops, those helicopters cannot fly.
"Fifty percent of the returning Oregon National Guard are unemployed. Fifty percent have just returned from Iraq to no job. They do not have insurance. And of the 50 percent that have jobs, despite the chairman's statement, most do not have health insurance, like so many Americans who work full-time and do not have health insurance.
"We are worried about Guard retention, so we're planning to provide fabulous new bonuses to those who enlist or re-up. How about basics? Health insurance for the Guard, Reserves and their families, and the same education benefits that people on active duty get.
"We are using our Guardmembers indistinguishably from the active duty Army. They are performing special operations. They are doing all the same things we ask the regular Army to do. But they do not get the same education benefits. They do not get the same health benefits. They do not get the same retirement benefits, and many times they do not even get the same equipment.
"It's a disgrace that the House Republican Leadership said we cannot afford to add one-quarter of 1 percent to the defense budget to improve Guard benefits. That's about 18 hours' spending to provide permanent health insurance for everybody who is still active in a Guard unit in this country. Hopefully, the Senate will act with more wisdom and include a benefit these soldiers have earned.
"On the eve of Memorial Day, I am proud to have voted with our National Guard and Reservists. I am proud to have stood up with them to say they deserve better, our country recognizes their service and they should receive adequate benefits including health care."