WASHINGTON (May 26, 2020) — The voice of nearly 45,000 current and former National Guard officers is applauding new legislation in the House of Representatives that would provide Guardsmen with transitional medical coverage after they demobilize from COVID-19 missions.
Introduced Friday by Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., and Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., the Support our National Guard Act (H.R. 6967) would provide Guardsmen and their families with six months of TRICARE medical coverage after they leave federal Title 32 active duty.
The bill in the House is a counterpart to legislation of the same name and provisions (S.3713) introduced in the Senate on May 13 by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
TRICARE is the U.S. military’s health care delivery system. It functions similarly to private medical plans. Guardsmen on federal orders in increments of more than 30 days and their families currently have access to the coverage.
They and their families receive transitional medical care for six months after overseas assignments to help cope with possible post-deployment health issues, but the law governing domestic missions provides no such coverage.
Federal support for Guard COVID-19 missions is set to end on June 24.
“These soldiers and airmen are on the front lines of our nation’s worst public health crisis in more than a century,” said retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, the NGAUS president. “It would be unconscionable to send them home to their families without medical coverage.
“Active-component personnel coming off the same front lines have that coverage, and rightly so,” he added. “All we are asking is that we treat Guardsmen the same way.”
Unfortunately, he said, the situation requires a “legislative fix,” such as the Support our National Guard Act
“Guardsmen and their leaders nationwide greatly appreciate Representative Cunningham and Representative Palazzo for getting this started in the House,” Robinson said.
This is likely the first time the two have teamed on a piece of legislation.
Cunningham, who is in first term in Congress, is a member of the Veterans’ Affairs and Natural Resources committees. Palazzo, who has been in the House since 2011, is on the House Appropriations Committees.
“It’s always great to get freshman members involved in Guard issues,” Robinson said. “And Representative Cunningham is working across the aisle with Representative Palazzo, a legislator who knows the Guard as well as anyone on Capitol Hill.”
Palazzo is the co-chair of the House National Guard and Reserve Caucus. He has also been a drilling member of the Army National Guard in his home state since 1997.
Nearly 46,000 Guardsmen are currently on duty nationwide to help state and local authorities respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They are performing a multitude of missions, including but not limited to distributing protective equipment to hospitals, staffing mobile COVID-19 test centers, managing food banks and delivering food, and disinfecting nursing homes.
Roughly 85% are on federal orders under section 502(f) of Title 32 of the U.S. Code. Title 32 provides the federal legal framework for the Guard in a state status. For the current emergency, it enables the Guard to respond under the command of the governors while the federal government covers pay and allowances.
Robinson calls the provision the “best way” for the Guard to respond to a regional or national emergency. It takes the financial burden off the states while keeping the response local and flexible, he said.
“But 502(f) has long been flawed,” he added. “The Pentagon doesn’t like to use it out of fear of not being reimbursed in the timely manner by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and it doesn’t spell out adequate protections for the troops.
“The Support our National Guard Act would increase those protections,” Robinson said.
NGAUS has previously advocated for the use of Title 32 orders for the COVID-19 response. The association also lobbied the president to extend those orders beyond 30 days in order to provide Guardsmen with TRICARE coverage.
# # #
Reporters, Editors & Producers: Retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson is available for interviews or to appear as a subject matter expert on issues related to the National Guard. Contact John Goheen at 202-408-5882 to schedule an interview or appearance.
About NGAUS: The association includes nearly 45,000 current or former Guard officers. It was created in 1878 to provide unified National Guard representation in Washington. In their first productive meeting after Reconstruction, militia officers from the North and South formed the association with the goal of obtaining better equipment and training by educating Congress on Guard requirements. Today, 142 years later, NGAUS has the same mission.