NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007 -- (Senate - June 22, 2006)
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Mr. GRAHAM. I will be very brief.
One, I thank the chairman and ranking member for their willingness to help Senator Chambliss and Senator Clinton and myself with a package of reforms that would be very beneficial to the Guard and Reserves regarding Reserve retirement.
Right now, the current system will not allow you to retire until you are 60. You can serve your 20 years, 30 years, but you have to wait until you are 60 to get your retirement. We are trying to incentivize those Guard and Reserves to take part in active-duty operations, and if you are called up to active duty involuntarily, for every 90 days a member spends on active duty, from September 11 forward, you will get a day-for-day credit in terms of retirement. If you serve a whole year on active duty, voluntarily or involuntarily, you could retire at 59.
We have had this scored. It is minimum cost. But I can assure you it will go a long way in the Guard and Reserve community as a much needed reform.
It will be well received by our troops. It will be good for them and their families. Quite honestly, the level of commitment, the level of Active Duty service is on par with World War II among the Guard and Reserves, and it is the least we can do. This will certainly benefit our guardsmen and reservists and their families. I appreciate the chairman and ranking member putting it in the managers' package.
I have enjoyed working with Senators CHAMBLISS and CLINTON on this issue. The reduced retirement provision was from Senator Chambliss. It was his amendment. And we used his amendment also to improve health care for the Guard and Reserves.
What we have done--there is a three-tiered system. For every 90 days you are called to active duty, you get a year of TRICARE at a 28-percent premium share rate, which is the same as for Federal employees. Everyone who works in our offices as Federal employees pays 28 percent of the cost of their Federal health care. The only group in the Federal Government not to have Federal health care were the Guard and Reserves. We fixed that last year. And we are going to have a change in the allocation.
Tier 2: If you are an unemployed or an uninsured guardsman or reservist, we are going to have a 50-50 cost share. If you are in the private sector with health care, and you want to come into TRICARE, to have continuity of health care, not bouncing back and forth, we are going to have a 75-25 share. So if you want to get out of your private-sector health care and come into TRICARE, you will have to pay 75 percent. That will be down from 85 percent. We put a cap on premium growth rates.
The entire package, from allowing people to retire early if they serve on active duty, voluntarily or involuntarily, is a great idea. Balancing out the premiums to be paid will go a long way to make our Guard and Reserve family members and Active Duty and military members more appreciated. And it will certainly help them with their budget problems, because we all know how costly health care is.
I have introduced a separate stand-alone bill that would allow every guardsman and reservist who is eligible for TRICARE to participate in premium conversions. It would allow them to have their TRICARE premiums on a pretax basis, like every other Federal employee. That is a stand-alone bill. We will do it later.
I thank Senator Chambliss for coming up with a package that would allow military members and the Guard and Reserves to get credit for their active service in terms of retiring below age 60. Senator Clinton and I have worked for several years on TRICARE benefits for guardsmen and reservists. I think we have improved that benefit in a very reasonable way. I put that on the record and hope every Member of the Senate will appreciate what we have done because our guardsmen and reservists have served above and beyond the call of duty.
Mr. President, I now yield to Senator Clinton, who, as I have indicated, has been with us every step of the way, leading on this issue.