Act Authorizes, Extends, Adds Medical Benefits for Guard, Reserve
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2004 The 2005 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law Oct. 28, contains new medical benefits for activated reservists and National Guardsmen and extends some other benefits that had been enacted temporarily.
Medical benefits for guardsmen and reservists who are called to active duty change significantly under provisions in this year's authorization act, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall said today.
During an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Hall explained that DoD is committed to providing quality medical care for reserve component troops and their families before, during and after deployments.
Recent changes make reserve component members and their families eligible for medical care up to 90 days before a deployment. A major change in the new act provides for considerably extended coverage after deployment as well. Activated reserve-component servicemembers are now eligible for one year of Tricare Standard coverage for each 90 days of active duty service. Members pay 28 percent of the cost for care and agree to stay in the Selected Reserve for their entire period of coverage, Hall said.
"We want to take care of guardsmen and reservists and their families prior to mobilization -- which we do for 90 days, he said. "We want to take care of them while they're mobilized by extending these benefits, and we want to take care of them for a period of time after they come off of active duty."
Previously enacted temporary benefits -- including 180 days of transitional health care for activated reservists, waiver of Tricare deductibles for those called to active duty for more than 30 days, and payment of up to 115 percent of Tricare maximum allowable charges -- became permanent under the new act as well.
The act also addresses medical readiness of reservists and guardsmen. It provides for a review of medical and dental readiness of reservists and guardsmen called to active duty.
"Our medical and dental readiness for guardsmen and reservists has been OK, but it has not been as good as what it needed to be," Hall said. "We need to ensure that not only is the health of our guardsmen and reservists what it should be, but (also that) they're medically ready to go when we call them."
One possibility is changing the frequency reserve component members are required to take physical exams. Currently, active and reserve members must get a physical every five years. Hall explained this might not be adequate for reserve component members, who they have much less exposure to military medical professionals than their active counterparts.
Active troops may only be required to have a physical every five years, he said, but every time they're sick or injured they're having their medical readiness considered by military medical professionals. That's not the case for reservists, who spend much more of their time in civilian life.
"The real question is how do we do medical screening for guardsmen and reservists, how do we do dental screening, and is it producing the results we need that we see from people that are mobilizing?" Hall said. "And if the answer is no, then we probably need to put some resources (toward the issue), and we need to change the way in which we screen (servicemembers) medically."