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NGAUS Appeals to Congress for Health Care, Benefits Parity

03-19-24 WR McGinn WEBSITE
03-19-24 WR McGinn WEBSITE
Washington Report

The NGAUS president shared with Congress the paradox facing the National Guard when it comes to readiness.

"For the most part, the Department of Defense provides the individual tools to promote preparedness," retired Maj. Gen. Francis M. McGinn told a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees March 13.

"We do not ask a soldier to purchase a Humvee or for an airman to purchase an F-16," he testified. "We do not require them to go to the range on their own dime, or even for enlisted to purchase their own uniforms.

"Yet for health care, the one thing that ensures they are physically able to deploy, [Guardsmen are] required to purchase their own, out of pocket," McGinn added.

The hearing provided an opportunity for nine military and veterans service organizations — including NGAUS — to outline their legislative objectives for 2024.

Most of the organizations' representatives asked for legislation that would normally have to clear the veterans’ committees first.

No-cost health care would initially have to pass the House and Senate Armed Services committees, but NGAUS shares the Guard’s health care challenges with every audience it can on Capitol Hill.

About 130,000 currently serving Guardsmen and Reservists have no medical coverage, McGinn noted.

That figure means about one in five Guardsmen and Reservists lack access to the preventative health care needed to be ready when the nation calls.

"As such, we have units with medical deployability rates far below the 75% goal," McGinn testified. "With the state of current events around the world, we cannot afford any percentage of our team to sit the bench."

McGinn asked the veterans’ committees to fully support the Healthcare for Our Troops Act (H.R. 4221) and the Dental Care for Our Troops Act (H.R. 4220/S. 2046).

"Affording zero-cost TRICARE and dental coverage will dramatically increase readiness, recruiting and retention," he said.

"However, the benefits extend far beyond the current force," he continued. "A healthy Guardsman is a healthy veteran. Preventive care throughout a service member’s career reduces medical expenditures after retirement."

McGinn also thanked the lawmakers who announced their support for the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2024 (H.R. 7543 and S. 3873) earlier this month.

The legislation would count nearly every day in uniform for Guardsmen and Reservists toward eligibility for federal educational benefits.

Currently, reserve-component members only earn credit for these benefits when they mobilize and deploy for federal missions, while those in the active component receive credit for every day they serve.

The Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2024 "is an incredible step forward and we strongly encourage you to pass this bill in the 118th Congress," McGinn said.

The NGAUS president also asked that one of the three tracks in the Transition Assistance Program for personnel leaving military service be rededicated and tailored to the reserve components.

"The National Guard and Reserve have unique needs when coming off active orders and specific attention should be paid to the accrual and transition of benefits," McGinn said.

He shared that Guardsmen currently complete the program every time they move back to a Title 32 state status after a federal Title 10 mobilization "as if we are ending our military service altogether rather than, more often than not, returning to our previous regular civilian employment."

"Not only is this a waste of resources and time, but it creates a level of callous fatigue," he continued. "It becomes a check-the-box activity.

"By the time a Guardsman actually needs TAP, at the end of their National Guard service, they have become immune and numb to the available resources," McGinn argued.

"It is my understanding these committees are currently considering language to address this issue and we ask for your full support."

McGinn’s written testimony from last week's hearing is available here. Video of the hearing is available here.

— By John Goheen