NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2005-CONTINUED
AMENDMENT NO. 3258
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. I just need 10 minutes to speak on the amendment.
Just to conclude this debate, this debate has been going on for a very long time, more than a year, on how to best take care of the Guard and Reserve Forces in terms of their health care needs. It is an honest debate, sincere debate. Mr. President, 85 Members of the Senate voted last year on this very amendment. I think I understand why they voted to extend health care benefits to the Guard and Reserve, full time, and with the premium to be paid for them. It makes sense for our military needs. Forty percent of our people in Iraq and Afghanistan are going to be Guard and Reserve members.
Let me explain as best as I can how this works. If you are a member of the Guard and Reserve today, while you are serving in that capacity you have absolutely zero health care benefits offered to you from the military. A part-time Federal Government employee, a temporary Federal Government employee receives health care benefits. So go home and explain that one. You can be a part-time Federal employee, work in the Senate or the House, and you get health care. You can be a part-time citizen soldier, training to defend America, and you get zip.
Now, it is true when you are called to active duty you get everything an Active-Duty person gets. The reason is because you are on active duty. That is not that great of a benefit, to pay you like somebody right next to you and to give you the same benefits because you are doing the same job. The point we are trying to make is, there is a problem in the Guard and Reserve community when it comes to health care. Mr. President, 25 percent of the people called to active duty, as I stated before, from the Guard and Reserve community are unable to go on active duty because of health care problems. I would argue that we need a better health care network covering our Guard and Reserve members and their families, from a readiness point of view.
Let's talk a little bit about retention. The head of the Army Reserve said yesterday-and this is back in January-that the 205,000-soldier force must guard against a potential crisis in its ability to retain troops, saying serious problems were being masked temporarily because reservists are barred from leaving the military while the units are mobilized in Iraq.
In this prison abuse scandal what we found was that the MPs in that jail, and some of their associates, were due to go home, but they couldn't go back home because they were needed in Iraq, and they had the rug pulled out from under them, causing tremendous morale problems.
"This is the first extended duration war our Nation has fought with an all-volunteer force," said LTG James R. Henley, the head of the Reserves. "We must be sensitive to that and we must provide proactive, preventive measures to prevent a recruiting retention crisis." 1-21-04.
"We got a real retention issue," said Republican Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, our Governor and a member of the Air Force Reserve. "We are going to see it emptying when people's tickets are up and when Guardsmen are not stepping up to the plate."
You know, I am not sure that is true. Patriotism is high. To prevent them from getting out, we need to be thinking of what we can do to make it a more attractive job. But let's say you stay in. What can you do to honor your service to our country? This Congress has spent $400 billion on Medicare improvements. Let's talk about money for a minute. We are trying to get every senior in the country to sign up for a discount card because we want to help seniors. Great, good idea.
We are trying to spend $1 billion a year for 5 years to give Guard and Reserve members continuity of health care coverage, and we are arguing about the money? We spent $20 billion of hard-earned taxpayer money in Iraq. We gave it to the Iraqi people, to build their hospitals, to build their schools, to build their roads, to build their fire departments, and their police stations, to train their army. Do you know what. The money is needed.
I wanted to loan some of it because they are sitting on $1 trillion worth of oil. I like helping people but I want people to help themselves. So when it came time to write this amendment we did strike a balance. Here is the balance.
Right now, as a Guard and Reserve member, you are a part-time Federal employee. Unlike every other part-time Federal employee, you get nothing. So here is what we are suggesting. If you want to, you can sign up for military health care year round. It will be eligible for you and your family-you will be eligible for that program. But while you are a Guard or Reserve member you are going to have to pay a premium like a Federal employee. I wish we could get the Iraqi people to help pay some of the money back, but we are not. So they are going to make a contribution. This is not a free deal. They have to pay like every other part-time Federal employee. Put them in that same category. They deserve to be in that category.
Here is the difference between an Active-Duty troop and a Guard and Reserve member. No. 1, an Active-Duty troop is doing a great job, and we should pay them more. Senator Warner has done a great job improving benefits for Active-Duty people. Our Armed Services Committee in the Senate has been second to no one in trying to make a better life for those who serve our country. My hat is off to them. We just have a disagreement over this particular amendment. But we are daily improving the benefit package of Active-Duty people. By God, they deserve it.
But here is why it will not affect recruiting. The Pentagon has started this argument. It is the most bogus argument I have ever heard. It is that if you offer TRICARE eligibility for the military members who would have to pay $1,800 a year for the benefit, as a premium for a family, that somehow that will hurt recruiting for active duty.
Here is your choice if you are going to pick between the two programs. You have a Reserve job or a Guard job that allows you to work one weekend a month, 2 weeks a year, and you get to retire when you are 60. The Active-Duty person gets a full paycheck, gets full health care benefits, gets a retirement after 20 years. There is no way that is going to compete and take people away from Active-Duty Forces. How are you going to raise a family working 2 days a month? They are part-time employees in a vital job, to defend America. Unlike every other part-time Federal employee, they are not eligible for Federal Government health care, and they should be. We are asking them to pay a premium unless they are called to active duty.
That is a fiscally responsible balance. We spent $20 billion of the taxpayers' money to make Iraq a better place. We spent $400 billion and counting on a prescription drug program for our seniors. Here we are, trying to get $5.4 billion over a 5-year period to cover 300,000 families who have suffered beyond description, in terms of leaving their homes and their jobs for pay cuts. Most Guard and Reserve members, when called to active duty, leave obligations behind, greater than the military paycheck. They make more money in the civilian world and when they are called to active duty they take a pay cut and we don't make up the difference. But they know that going in.
There are small things that mean a lot to these people, and this is truly small, in terms of money. It is two-tenths of 1 percent of the budget. Mr. President, 25 percent of the people are unable to go on active duty when called to the Guard and Reserve community because of health care problems. This amendment more than pays for itself. The money is well spent. It is affordable, and there are many programs in this budget that cost more than $700 million that, if you ask the taxpayer to choose, I think the Guard and Reserve community would win every time.
How many bills do we pass every year that spend billions of dollars on questionable programs? This is the one area upon which we can all agree. The Guard and Reserve community needs a better benefit package because they are being asked to do more than ever. They are dying at a greater rate this year than last year. What has happened in the year when we first debated this? There are more of them and they are dying at a faster rate.
The father of TRICARE is Senator Warner.
This is why I object to committee markups. No. 1, the entire cost of TRICARE under the committee markup is borne by the employer community and the reservists. The Government doesn't contribute one penny to the health care needs of our Guard and Reserve members. That is wrong.
The unsung hero of this whole war effort, when it comes to the Guard and Reserve community, is the employer. Wouldn't it be nice if we could take a load off of small businesses and large businesses which have guardsmen and reservists and share in the cost of health care along with the Guard members themselves and take them off the payroll? It is a small thing. It would mean a lot to employers.
Employers have paid the difference between active pay and civilian pay voluntarily, and in huge numbers. We have done nothing to thank them. Taking care of the health care needs of our Guard and Reserve Forces is one less problem an employer has to worry about.
I ask the 85 Members of the Senate who voted last year for this very same measure, which is now $300 million cheaper and going down every minute because we are trying to make it cheaper, to step to the plate and say to the Guard and Reserve community: We got it. We understand your sacrifice. We understand your stress. We understand your family is having health care coverage problems. Twenty percent of them have no health care. They are bouncing from one group to the next, and we are going to fix that. We are going to give you an option. We are going to ask you to pay some, but we are going to make your health care life better.
I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the RECORD letters of support for this amendment from the National Guard Association of the United States, the Reserve Officers Association of the United States, the Reserve Enlisted Association, the Air Force Sergeants Association, along with the National Guard Association of the United States.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
NATIONAL GUARD ASSOCIATION
OF THE UNITED STATES,
Washington, DC, May 19, 2004.
Hon. LINDSEY GRAHAM,
U.S. Senator, Russell Senate Office Building,
DEAR SENATOR GRAHAM: On behalf of the 50,000 members of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), I want to thank you for doing so much for our membership in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 (NDAA FY05). Your leadership, along with your colleagues, has given our soldiers and airmen the much-needed opportunity to participate in the TRICARE health program when not in a mobilized status.
This health coverage will not only provide Guard members and their families with continuity of care, but also with a chance to positively contribute to the betterment of the TRICARE program. As we all know, the system of care will respond in a positive way to these additional beneficiaries, especially in remote areas. The three new provider networks-TriWest, Health Net, Humana-have made a commitment to ensure TRICARE beneficiaries are satisfied with their health care. Along with Congress, we will also be keeping an eye on the path of transition from 11 TRICARE regions to three.
We recognize section 706 in the NDAA FY05 is an excellent starting point to providing a health care program to our Guardsmen as a measurement of the country's appreciation for all they have done. We support the initial intent of S. 2035, as sponsored by you and Senator Daschle, which was to have the Department of Defense pay 72 percent of the premium cost, thereby taking the burden off private and public employees completely. The NGAUS fully understands the pressure of budget constraints in the FY05 budget, but we are hopeful that soon the burden will be taken off the employers and rest fully in its intended, and rightful place, in the Department of Defense.
The fashion in which the National Guard is being utilized has forced America to take notice and recognize the full worth of these exceptional men and women serving in harm's way. Guardsmen are our neighbors, teachers, co-workers and students. Once again, thank you for all you have done for the soldiers and airmen in the National Guard.
RICHARD C. ALEXANDER,
MAJOR GENERAL (RET.), AUS,
RESERVE ENLISTED ASSOCIATION,
May 21, 2004.
Hon. THOMAS A. DASCHLE,
U.S. Senate, Hart Senate Office Building,
Hon. LINDSEY O. GRAHAM,
U.S. Senate, Russell Senate Office Building,
DEAR SENATOR DASCHLE AND SENATOR GRAHAM: The mobilizations over the past three years since September 11th have once again shown that the readiness of our reserve components has been affected by medical issues. When called upon our nation's citizen-soldiers need to be prepared to answer that call, but without proper healthcare we cannot maintain a well trained and ready reserve force.
The Reserve Enlisted Association supports Daschle-Graham amendment to the Senate Armed Service Committee, FY2005, National Defense Authorization Act, S.2400, requiring the Department of Defense to assume responsibility for the employer cost of a Reservist's healthcare under TRICARE.
REA is dedicated to making our nation stronger and our military more prepared and look forward to working together towards these goals. Please feel free to call me at 202-646-7758 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
CMSGT, USAFR (RETIRED),
AIR FORCE SERGEANTS ASSOCIATION,
Temple Hills, MD, May 15, 2003.
Hon. LINDSEY GRAHAM,
Russell Senate Office Building,
DEAR SENATOR GRAHAM: On behalf of the 136,000 members of AFSA, I would like to offer our support of S. 1000. This association has been on the leading edge of the effort to lower the earliest Guard and Reserve retirement age. We feel very strongly that the retirement age should be lowered at a minimum to age 55, consistent with the retirement age of all other federal retirees. Although the provisions contained within S. 1000 addressing this issue fall short of what we believe is fair, it is a step in the right direction.
Without question, reservists and their families will benefit from the opportunity to receive health coverage through TRICARE. So will DoD. Beyond recruitment and retention, this program will improve readiness since nearly 20 percent of reserve component members do not currently have health insurance. Maintaining a healthy force is absolutely essential to maintaining a prepared force.
The success of our national defense is dependent on a "Total Force" effort, and the availability of Guard and Reserve members is critical. The various tax credits contained in S. 1000 will encourage employee and citizen participation in Guard and Reserve programs, thereby facilitating the availability of these important servicemembers when they are needed.
I thank you for taking the initiative to introduce such an important piece of legislation. As always, I offer you this association's support on this and other matters of mutual concern.
JAMES D. STATON,
RESERVE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION
OF THE UNITED STATES,
Washington, DC, May 18, 2004.
Senator THOMAS A. DASCHLE,
U.S. Senate, Senate Hart,
Senator LINDSEY O. GRAHAM,
U.S. Senate, Senate Russell,
DEAR SENATOR DASCHLE AND SENATOR GRAHAM: It has been over a decade since Desert Shield and Desert Storm occurred and medical readiness problems were identified; yet the Reserve Components face the same problems with medical and dental fitness when mobilized for Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot continue losing the service and experience of Reserve Component members who cannot mobilize due to medical readiness.
The Reserve Officers Association supports the Daschle-Graham amendment to the Senate Armed Services Committee, FY2005, National Defense Authorization Act, S. 2400, requiring the Department of Defense to assume responsibility for the employer cost of a Reservist's healthcare under TRICARE.
ROBERT A. MCINTOSH,
MAJOR GENERAL (RET.), USAFR,
NATIONAL GUARD ASSOCIATION
OF THE UNITED STATES,
Washington, DC, May 21, 2003.
Hon. LINDSEY GRAHAM,
DEAR SENATOR GRAHAM: On behalf of the men and women of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), I would like to personally thank you for your leadership in helping ensure passage your amendment to the National Defense Authorizations Act for fiscal year 2004 based off S. 1000 and S. 852. This important amendment provides the opportunity for Guardsmen to participate in the Tricare program on a cost-share basis. As you know, this initiative to improve healthcare readiness for members of the National Guard and Reserve components and their families is at the forefront of our priorities.
Your staff, especially Steve Flippin and Aleix Jarvis, has put forth a tremendous effort toward this initiative. You should be proud to have such an outstanding team.
Again, thank you for your continued support of a strong and viable National Guard.
RICHARD C. ALEXANDER,
MAJOR GENERAL (RET.), AUS,
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, these letters are not just words on paper. I challenge every member of the public and every Senator to go back home and spend a few minutes in a Guard and Reserve unit and ask about TRICARE for those who have been on active duty.
Does it work? Senator Warner deserves great praise because it is working. Ask the question: If you could sign up for TRICARE year round and pay a premium, how many of you would do it? Hands would be raised. It would be a great benefit to the 300,000 forces. It would be good for their families. It would be good for retention. It is affordable, and it is the right thing to do.
I yield the floor.