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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006--Resumed

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2006--Resumed

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

The Senator from South Carolina [Mr. GRAHAM], for himself, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Leahy, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. DeWine, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Pryor, Mr. Reid, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Dayton, Mr. Allen, Ms. Cantwell, and Ms. Murkowski proposes an amendment numbered 1363.

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To expand the eligibility of members of the Selected Reserve under the TRICARE program)

At the end of subtitle A of title VII, add the following:

SEC. 705. EXPANDED ELIGIBILITY OF MEMBERS OF THE SELECTED RESERVE UNDER THE TRICARE PROGRAM.

(a) GENERAL ELIGIBILITY.--Subsection (a) of section 1076d of title 10, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by striking ``(a) ELIGIBILITY.--A member'' and inserting ``(a) ELIGIBILITY.--(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), a member'';

(2) by striking ``after the member completes'' and all that follows through ``one or more whole years following such date''; and

(3) by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

``(2) Paragraph (1) does not apply to a member who is enrolled, or is eligible to enroll, in a health benefits plan under chapter 89 of title 5.''.

(b) CONDITION FOR TERMINATION OF ELIGIBILITY.--Subsection (b) of such section is amended by striking ``(b) PERIOD OF COVERAGE.--(1) TRICARE Standard'' and all that follows through ``(3) Eligibility'' and inserting ``(b) TERMINATION OF ELIGIBILITY UPON TERMINATION OF SERVICE.--Eligibility''.

(c) CONFORMING AMENDMENTS.--

(1) Such section is further amended--

(A) by striking subsection (e); and

(B) by redesignating subsection (g) as subsection (e) and transferring such subsection within such section so as to appear following subsection (d).

(2) The heading for such section is amended to read as follows:``ยง1076d. TRICARE program: TRICARE Standard coverage for members of the Selected Reserve''.

(d) REPEAL OF OBSOLETE PROVISION.--Section 1076b of title 10, United States Code, is repealed.

(e) CLERICAL AMENDMENTS.--The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 55 of title 10, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by striking the item relating to section 1076b; and

(2) by striking the item relating to section 1076d and inserting the following:

``1076d. TRICARE program: TRICARE Standard coverage for members of the Selected Reserve.''.

(f) SAVINGS PROVISION.--Enrollments in TRICARE Standard that are in effect on the day before the date of the enactment of this Act under section 1076d of title 10, United States Code, as in effect on such day, shall be continued until terminated after such day under such section 1076d as amended by this section.

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I will try to keep this very short. This amendment is not new to the body. This is something that I have been working on with Senator Clinton and other Members for a very long time. It deals with providing the Guard and Reserves eligibility for military health care.

As a setting or a background, of all the people who work for the Federal Government, surely our Guard and Reserves are in that category. Not only do they work for the Federal Government, sometimes on a very full-time basis, they are getting shot at on behalf of the Federal Government and all of us who enjoy our freedom. Temporary and part-time employees who work in our Senate offices are eligible for Federal health care. They have to pay a premium, but they are eligible. Of all the people who deal with the Federal Government and come to the Federal Government when they are needed, the Guard and Reserve, they are ineligible for any form of Federal Government health care. Twenty-five percent of the Guard and Reserve are uninsured in the private sector. About one in five who have been called to active duty from the Guard and Reserve have health care problems that prevent them from going to the fight immediately.

So this amendment will allow them to enroll in TRICARE, the military health care network for Active-Duty people and retirees. Under our legislation, the Guard and Reserve can sign up to be a member of TRICARE and have health care available for them and their families. They have to pay a premium. This is not free. This is modeled after what Federal employees have to do working in a traditional role with the Federal Government. So they have to pay for it, but it is a deal for family members of the Guard and Reserves that I think helps us in three areas: retention, recruiting, and readiness.

Under the bill that we are about to pass, every Guard and Reserve member will be eligible for an annual physical to make sure they are healthy and they are maintaining their physical status so they can go to the fight.

What happens if someone has a physical and they have no health care? To me, it is absurd that we would allow this important part of our military force's health care needs to go unaddressed, and it showed up in the war. We have had problems getting people into the fight because of health care problems. If we want to recruit and retain, the best thing we can do as a nation is to tell Guard and Reserve members and their families, if they will stay in, we are going to provide a benefit to them and their families that they do not have today that will make life better.

I ask unanimous consent that a USA Today article entitled ``Army Finds Troop Morale Problems in Iraq,'' be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

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Mr. GRAHAM. This is a survey. It states: A majority of U.S. soldiers in Iraq say morale is low, according to an Army report that finds psychological stress is weighing particularly heavily on National Guard and Reserve troops.

The last paragraph states: National Guard and Reserve soldiers who serve in transportation support units suffered more than others from depression, anxiety, and other indications of acute psychological stress, the report stated. These soldiers have often been targets of the insurgents' lethal ambushes and roadside bombs.

Last month and the month before last were the most deadly for the Guard and Reserve since the war started. The role of the Guard is up, not down. It is more lethal than it used to be, and families are being stressed.

What we did last year, thanks to Chairman Warner, was a good start. We provided relief for Guard and Reserve members who had been called to active duty since September 11, and their families. If you were called to active duty for 90 days since September 11 to now, you were eligible for TRICARE for 1 year. If you served in Iraq for a year, you would get 4 years of TRICARE. The problem is, some people are going to the fight voluntarily and don't meet that criteria. Two-thirds of the air crews in the Guard and Reserve have already served 2 years in some capacity involuntarily. They keep going to the fight voluntarily and their service doesn't count toward TRICARE eligibility.

The bottom line is we have improved the amendment. We need to reform it even more. We have reduced the amount of reservists eligible to join this program to the selected Reserves. Since I am in the indefinite Reserve status as a reservist, I am not eligible for this, nor should I be. But if you are a selected Reserve under our amendment, you are eligible for TRICARE. We have reduced the number of reservists eligible. We have reduced the amount of premiums the Reserve and Guard member would have to pay. We have reduced it from $7.1 billion to $3.8 billion over 5 years. We have made it more fiscally sound.

But the bottom line is for me, you cannot help these families enough, and $3.8 billion over 5 years is the least we can do. What does it cost to have the Guard and Reserve not ready and not fit to go to the fight? What does it cost to have about 20 percent of your force unable to go to the fight because of health care problems? This is the best use of the money we could possibly spend. There is all kinds of waste in the Pentagon that would more than pay for this, and our recruiting numbers for the Guard and Reserve are not going to be met this year because the Guard and Reserve is not a part-time job any longer. It is a real quick ticket to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The people who are in the Guard and Reserves are helping us win this war just as much as their Active-Duty counterparts, who are doing a tremendous job. Their families don't have to worry about health care problems; guardsmen and reservists do.

I have statements from the National Governors Association, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Military Officers Association of America, the Fleet Reserve Association, the Reserve Enlisted Association, and the Air Force Sergeants Association that I would like to submit for the RECORD, saying directly to the Congress:

This is a good benefit. If you will enact it, it would improve the quality of life for our Guard and Reserve members and their families. It will help recruiting and retention, and it is needed.

I ask unanimous consent to have those letters printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRAHAM. We are building on what we did last year. This fight is going to go on for a long time in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can't leave too soon. The idea of having a smaller involvement by Guard and Reserves is an intriguing idea, but it is not going to happen anytime soon either. This benefit will help immeasurably the quality of life of guardsmen and reservists, take stress off of them and their families, and it is the least we can do as a nation who are being defended by part-time soldiers who are really full in every capacity and die in every bit the same numbers, if not greater, than their Active-Duty counterparts.

I will yield the floor to Senator Clinton, who has been with us every step of the way. We have made a great deal of progress. We are not going to stop until this provision becomes law.

To my friends in the House, the House Armed Services Committee passed this provision with six Republicans joining with the Democratic side of the aisle to get it out of the committee and, through some maneuvering on the floor, this provision helping the Guard and Reserve families was taken out of the bill. There has been one vote after another in the House where over 350 people have supported the concept.

To my friends in the House, I appreciate all you have done to help the troops, but we are going to fight over this issue. This is not going away. We are not quitting until we get it right for the Guard and Reserves.

I yield the floor to Senator Clinton.

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Mr. GRAHAM. I would like to acknowledge what Senator Clinton has done on behalf of this amendment. Without her, I don't think we would be as far as we are. She has been terrific. To Senator Warner, you and your staff have been terrific to do what we did last year.

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Mr. GRAHAM. I thank the Chair. Thanks to all Senators, and thanks to the Guard and Reserve because we need them the most.

One of the problems that Guard and Reserve families have to face is the lack of continuity of health care. If you are called back to duty, you have health care. Once you are released from active duty, with its health care program, you go back into the civilian health care network. That means you have to change hospitals and doctors. If you are experiencing a pregnancy, that means your hospitals may change, the doctors may change because you bounce from one health care network to the other.

This bill would provide a health care home for guardsmen and reservists, taking stress off their families if they choose to join. They never have to worry about bouncing from one doctor to one hospital to the next. They would have a continuing network. The Guard and Reserve have to pay a premium, unlike their Active-Duty counterpart. It is not a free benefit. I think this is a fair compromise. At the end of the day, this will help the Guard and Reserve.

I am proud of what we have done. I thank the chairman for his willingness to work with us. Time will tell how we will do this, but I am optimistic Congress is going to rise to the occasion to help these men and women who risk their lives to protect our freedom.

http://thomas.loc.gov/

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