NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2005
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. WARNER). Without objection, it is so ordered.
AMENDMENT NO. 3258
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. I ask unanimous consent I be allowed to offer the TRICARE amendment, and I send it to the desk at this time.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The clerk will report.
The legislative clerk read as follows:
The Senator from South Carolina [Mr. GRAHAM], for himself and Mr. Daschle, proposes an amendment numbered 3258.
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. I ask unanimous consent the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.
BREAK IN TEXT
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, before we get started discussing the substance of the amendment, I think it is important that I make a comment about how the amendment came about, and that this is the Daschle-Graham amendment. Senator Daschle has been gracious enough to let me offer the amendment, but the truth is, without his support it would never have happened.
I have enjoyed tremendously working with him and others to try to find some common ground in terms of helping our Guard and Reserve communities facing unprecedented problems from the war on terrorism. They are doing a terrific job, just as are our active-duty troops. This has been a bipartisan effort. We worked on this last year. Senator Daschle offered the amendment last year. We made some progress. There was a compromise reached for the uninsured Guard and Reserve members to have $400 million to allow them to have full-time health care through the military health care system. That program was not implemented to my satisfaction. I doubt if Senator Daschle was pleased, but at least we did make some progress.
Chairman Warner has been very gracious in allowing us to offer this amendment and has tried to work with us at every turn. Senator Clinton was one of the original cosponsors, along with Senator DeWine. I could make a fairly lengthy list of Republicans and Democrats who tried to find some common ground when it comes to the Guard and Reserve community and their participation in the war on terrorism. What we have before the Senate today is a result of that bipartisan effort.
I listened to Senator Daschle talk about his visit to South Dakota. I had a similar visit in South Carolina when people kind of urged us to get our act together and do more in common, find some common ground up here. I think we found that today.
Guard and Reserve members, most Americans would assume, are covered in terms of military health care, but they are not. I think most Americans find it surprising that if you join the Guard or Reserve you are not entitled to military health care unless you are activated. The truth is, if you are a Guard or Reserve member, you have to work at least one weekend a month and 2 weeks a year. But the big joke among the Guard and Reserve is, "What a heck of a one weekend a month, 2 weeks a year job" because so many of them have been called to active duty for extended periods.
By the end of this year, 40 percent of the people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan will be members of the Guard and Reserve, called to active duty for probably a year or more. The reason that is so is because the Guard and Reserve community possesses unique skills that are essential to winning the war on terror. Mr. President, 75 percent of the people flying the C-130 in Afghanistan and Iraq come from the Guard and Reserve community. These air crews come from Air Guard units and Air Reserve units.
The C-130 is an indispensable asset in the war on terrorism. It is a four-engine prop plane. It was not the leading edge weapons system in the cold war. But when it comes to the war on terrorism, it can land in short spaces and take off in short spaces and haul people and cargo under some pretty adverse conditions. When I toured Iraq last year with fellow Senators, we had nine C-130 flights going in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. All nine flights were manned by Reserve crews.
Ninety percent of the people in the civil affairs component of the military are Reserve or Guard members. What do the civil affairs folks do? They are the ones who go around to Afghanistan and Iraq and teach democracy. They help local government organize at the equivalent of a city or a county level. They are helping judicial systems start. They are civilian lawyers and judges and administrators who leave small towns and big towns and they offer their service to the military. That service is being offered in Afghanistan and Iraq and is completely indispensable. We will never win the war on terror unless we get some democratic principles in the Mideast, and the civil affairs units are the leading edge folks providing that service.
Another group that is highly valuable that is heavily laden in terms of Guard and Reserve participation is military police. I know our Presiding Officer is a former member of the Reserve component, legal officer. He probably has a lot of MPs from Alabama who have been called from active duty to go to Afghanistan and Iraq and Bosnia and perform that function.
The military police force has a way to go. Major combat operations are over, but we know from our PC screens, what we read and hear from what is reported from our troops, Iraq and Afghanistan are very dangerous places. What we are trying to do is create order out of chaos. The military police are not only trained in combat skills but policing skills. High numbers of the military police units that are being activated to thwart the war on terrorism come from the Guard and Reserve communities. Most of them have civilian connection to law enforcement. They come from small towns all over America-from Alabama, South Dakota, and South Carolina. They are two of the five cops deployed because they are military police Reserve or Guard units.
The point of this discussion is to try to inform the body that the reason the Guard and Reserve community is so heavily utilized is because it has unique assets and skills which are essential to win the war on terror. The commitment from this group will continue to grow probably over time-not less.
It is now time for the Senate, the House, and the administration to work together to upgrade the benefits of the Guard and Reserve community.
One of the big problems we find from the war on terror is about 25 percent of the people called to active duty from the Guard and Reserve community are unable to go on active duty because of health care problems. That percent of the people in the Guard and Reserve do not have health care insurance in the private sector.
In my State, our adjutant general, Stan Speers, who has done a wonderful job leading our National Guard, says about 50 percent of the people in the National Guard in South Carolina have no health care in the private sector. What happens when you are called up? You have rigorous military standards in terms of being activated and sent off to war. The leading disqualifier for going onto active duty after being called from the Guard and Reserve is dental problems.
When you think about it, a lot of private health care plans have very limited dental coverage.
What we have been working on for well over a year is to provide full-time access to Guard and Reserve members and their families to military health care called TRICARE. If you are called to active duty from the Guard or Reserve, or if you join the Active-Duty services, you will became a member of TRICARE. Our chairman, Senator Warner, is the father of TRICARE. It was through his initiative that we created this large network of hospitals and doctors that go beyond the limits of the base. We signed up doctors and hospitals all over the country and the world to provide health care to our military members and their families. TRICARE is getting better every year. It is a free benefit.
But for those who serve in the military, you earn what you are getting because nothing is really free. You are risking your life for our freedom. But there is no contribution required of Active-Duty personnel.
What Senator Daschle, myself, and others have tried to do is cover this problem for the Guard and Reserve community in a creative fashion. Let us allow them to enroll in TRICARE. What would be the benefit of that for their country?
Number one, our Guard and Reserve would have continuity of health care. They would be in a health care system that is providing quality health care. It would be a great recruiting tool. If you join the Guard or Reserve, you and your family would be eligible for military health care. That would be a good attraction to get new people to come in. It would be a great retention incentive for people to stay in who have already signed up because they could get their health care through the military. It would be a great relief to employers.
The unsung hero of this whole operation in terms of the Reserve community is employers. If you go without your employer for a year or greater, many employers pay the difference between active and civilian pay.
More times than not, when a person is called to active duty, they get a cut in pay. Their military pay is less than their civilian pay. Their families suffer because the military members stand in harm's way. The support network for the Guard and Reserve is not nearly what it is for Active-Duty people. They get a cut in pay.
We are trying to lessen the effects on hardships on families. We are trying to make it an incentive for Guard and Reserve participation.
Here is how the program would work. If you join the Guard or Reserve, you and your family would be eligible to enroll in TRICARE, if you chose to. You would be asked to pay a premium. Unlike your Active-Duty counterparts who receive this without any cost sharing, you would be asked to pay a premium. I think that is fair. The premiums we set up, mirror what Federal employees have to pay in terms of their match for their health care. It is a good deal for the Guard and Reserve members and their families. It lessens the cost. It would be a shared responsibility, for the member would have to contribute and the Government would have to contribute.
I didn't know this until I got into this debate. If part-time Federal employees work 16 hours a week for the Federal Government, they are eligible for full-time participation in our health care plan. If you are a temporary employee, after a year you are eligible for full-time participation without a Government match. I think that is a good idea. I think this is fair and balanced for part-time Federal employees.
I think it would be a shame for a part-time citizen soldier not to at least have that benefit. We are not talking about a normal job. Everyone who serves this country by working for the Government is doing a good thing. People in the Guard and Reserve are not only serving their country in a positive way, but they are literally risking their lives. They take a cut in pay. They go from home into harm's way. Last month, the casualty rate among the Guard and Reserve community had a tremendous bite because there are more and more Guard and Reserve people in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is going to stay the same or get worse over time because we can't win the war without these people.
This amendment would allow, if the members chose, a chance to join TRICARE for themselves and their families. They would pay a premium, and the Government would pick up the match.
The committee markup allows the Guard member to join and pay a premium. It requires the employer to pay the remaining amount of the TRICARE premium.
I appreciate that effort, but the reason I think that misses the mark is because a lot of Guard and Reserve members don't have a private health care plan with which to cost share. You are going to have a very convoluted system. And at the end of the day, I feel very strongly we should not outsource the health care needs of the Guard and Reserve family-to be shared by the military member and the private sector alone.
I think it is very important for us in the Senate and in the House to say this is a government responsibility also, that it is fair to ask the Guard and Reserve family and member to contribute. But I think it is incumbent upon us to also have the Government contribute.
I have yet to find a taxpayer who is upset with the idea that we are going to pick up some of the health care costs for our Guard and Reserve members and their families for protecting our freedom.
The cost of the program: It depends on who you ask. But the latest CBO estimate is about $5.4 billion over a 5-year period. I think there are ways to lessen that cost, and I will be very openminded to that. But we are talking about a $2.2 trillion budget, and a defense budget approaching $400 billion.
My question to the body is, Is that $1 billion a year a wise expense of money? The question is, Can we afford not to? This is about two-tenths of 1 percent of the entire military budget; 300,000 families would be affected. These families are being called upon to do more as Guard and Reserve members than at any other time in the history of the Nation. They don't have health care provided to them by the Government, even though they are fighting to make sure we are all free. That is an inequity we need to fix. A cost-sharing arrangement between the Government and the military member is the way to go. It would help our employers greatly.
If you hire a Guard or Reserve member, and if they can sign up for military health care, it is less expensive for you to hire them and they became a more valuable employee. The employer community has suffered greatly in this war. They have gone without key employees for well over a year's time. They have been paying the bills as if the person were still there, and they need some relief.
I hope we can, in a bipartisan fashion, pass this amendment that Senator Daschle, myself, and others have worked on for well over a year. This amendment, simply stated, would allow Guard and Reserve members and their families access to full-time military health care, so when they are called they will be fit to fight, that they will have the security that continuous health care provides families, and they will not be bouncing around from one group to the next.
This is what often happens. If you are in a health care plan in civilian work, you are called to active duty, you leave that health care plan to go into TRICARE. On one of the C-130 crews I was flying with, there were two first-time dads on the crew. One of them had a private plan with Southwestern Bell that continued health care for the family voluntarily. They do not have to do that. The other was a realtor who had private health insurance. When he was called to active duty, his wife had to change doctors and hospitals. That was very traumatic.
We can lessen that trauma. We can give an option to the military member and their family, the Guard and Reserve military member, to have the same set of doctors and hospitals year round. They do not have to bounce from one group to another. When they are called off active duty, they lose their TRICARE eligibility within less than 6 months and have to change doctors and hospitals twice. It creates a serious disruption. Twenty-five percent have no health care in the private sector. This would solve that problem.
In terms of the money, it is the best deal you will ever find to defend America. It will save money. If 25 percent of the people called to active duty cannot be utilized because of health care problems, a small investment in their health care makes good sense from a business equation.
If necessary, we will find offsets.
I hope the Senate today, in a bipartisan fashion, will extend TRICARE health care benefits to every Guard and Reserve member who chooses to sign up in a cost-sharing fashion to make sure those people are ready to go to war when called, that their families are better taken care of, and that the concerns of continuity of health care will finally be addressed forever.
This is affordable. It is the right thing to do. Our Guard and Reserve families and members have earned it. They have earned this benefit.
I yield for my colleague, Senator Daschle.