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Health Insurance for National Guard

Location: Washington, DC

HEALTH INSURANCE FOR NATIONAL GUARD -- (House of Representatives - May 25, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, next Monday is Memorial Day. And tonight, in my opinion, a majority in the House of Representatives besmirched that day. 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. They said, oh, they get it 90 days before they are deployed. Yet many Guard members fail to qualify for deployment because of existing and pre-existing medical problems.

They get it for 180 days after they come back. That should be enough. The chairman of the committee said something extraordinary. He said, oh, they have all got health insurance at their jobs. What jobs? 50 percent of my Guard unit that just came back from Iraq do not have jobs, and they have a very limited health insurance that is going to run out pretty darn soon because of that vote tonight.

Now, they are probably going to go back next year to Afghanistan. But in the interim, we cannot afford health insurance for those young men and women and their families. That is extraordinary to me.

The chairman talked eloquently about 16-year-old helicopters. We need to replace them. 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 not really great economy in Oregon and cannot get health insurance through our State because of cutbacks in Medicaid? But we are going to ask him to go back to Afghanistan next year. What is that all about? We cannot afford health insurance for that young family?

We have to buy some new helicopters. Those helicopters are junk without the Guardsmen and the Guardswomen and the regular Army and the Marines, the people who make them work. It does not matter if they are 1 month old, 1 year old, 16 years old. Without those dedicated troops, those helicopters cannot fly.

It is unbelievable to me that the chairman of the committee would force Members of his own party to follow him in this vote.

Fifty percent of my Guardsmen 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 of those people do not have health insurance either, like so many Americans who work full-time and do not have health insurance.

And we are worried about Guard retention. They are going to have fabulous new bonuses to try and get people to enlist or re-up. How about basics? Basics? Health insurance for those Guardsmen and -women and their families; the same education benefits that people on active duty get.

We are using our Guardmembers indistinguishably from the active duty Army. Indistinguishably. 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. They are put in harm's way with inadequate equipment.

It is a disgrace to this House that we were told we cannot afford to add one-quarter of 1 percent. That is about 18 hours' spending out of a year to the military budget in order 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 force a reversal here.

I am proud to have voted with our Guardsmen and -women, and I am proud to have stood up with them and said they deserve better and our country recognizes their service and they recognize it by extending adequate benefits including health care, particularly as we come up to Memorial Day.

So those who voted against it, I hope they are asked on Memorial Day, why did you vote against giving me health insurance? Because there are an awful lot of Guardsmen and -women who would like to know the answer to that question.

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