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Congress May Suspend Reserve Mobilization Insurance Plan

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 9, 1997 – Congress is considering legislation to suspend the Ready Reserve Mobilization Insurance Program for the rest of fiscal 1997, said DoD reserve affairs officials. Legislators are also considering a broad range of options that will make the income insurance program self-sufficient.

The House and Senate appropriations committees recently recommended inclusion of a $72 million request in the fiscal 1997 emergency supplemental appropriation bill. This would pay nearly 3,000 reserve component service members activated for the Bosnia operation who enrolled in the program on or after Oct. 1, 1996.

The problem with the program is there has not been enough time for funds to accumulate to cover expenses, officials said. Only 24,400 of the 900,000-member Selected Reserve currently participate in the insurance program.

Deputy Defense Secretary John White proposed to Congress in April the program be suspended.

Congress enacted the optional insurance program in February 1996 as part of the fiscal 1996 Defense Authorization Act. Under the program, reserve component members contribute to insure against loss of their regular income if they are involuntarily called to active duty.

Just as the new law took effect last October, DoD announced moredeployments to support Operation Joint Endeavor. In most cases, reservists called for Bosnia duty then enrolled for the maximum amount of insurance -- $5,000 a month. They were set to receive their first payments in December.

Defense officials said the insurance program is not a dollar-for-dollar replacement of lost civilian income. Rather, they designed the program to help close the gap between civilian and military pay.

Under this program, reserve component members received four insurance options. They could enroll at the basic level -- $12.20 per month for $1,000 of monthly coverage. They could increase the amount of coverage in $500 increments up to $5,000 per month coverage ($61 premium) or decrease coverage to $500 per month ($6.10). They could also decline coverage.

Those in the Ready Reserve prior to Oct. 1 had until Dec. 30 to select their option. DoD considered failure to act on the options as declining coverage. DoD enrolled reserve component members who entered the military on or after Oct. 1 automatically at the $1,000 basic level. They have 60 days from their entry to exercise one of the four options.

Benefits could last for up to one year, or 12 months in any 18-month period. However, to collect benefits, deployment orders must specify the member's duty is in support of war or national emergency, or to augment active forces for a contingency operation.

Extensive use of reserve component forces during the Persian Gulf War prompted Pentagon officials to establish some kind of insurance program. A survey of reserve component members revealed about two-thirds of the nearly 268,000 reservists activated during the war experienced economic loss.

Service members said their losses were because military pay was less than their civilian income or because of higher family expenses stemming from deployment. Self-employed reservists reported the greatest losses.

Officials said losses were spread across all pay grades and military occupations. About two-thirds of the enlisted members and more than half of the officers surveyed indicated interest in buying income insurance.

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