Bill would extend health care benefits for families of fallen National Guard members, Reservists

A soldier from Oregon Army National Guard’s Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, prepares for a defensive posture on a hilltop with a Javelin during Decisive Action Rotation 15-09 at the National Training Center, Aug. 22, 2015. Photo credit Spc. Michelle U. Blesam/U.S. Army photo

Bipartisan legislation that would extend health benefits to surviving families of National Guard members and Reservists has been introduced in both houses of Congress.

The Sergeant First Class Michael Clark Tricare Reserve Parity Act would amend existing law to ensure three years of benefits for Guard and Reserve families, as is standard for active duty military.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced the legislation in the Senate. Reps. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Trent Kelly (R-MS) introduced the bill in the House.

Clark, of Bolton, Connecticut, died after being struck by lightning during a 30-day training exercise at Fort Gordon, Georgia last year. Under current law, survivors and their families have a six-month window to remain on TRICARE Reserve Select if the service member dies within less than 30 days while on training or weekend drills.

“Unfortunately, tragic accidents like these often expose gaps in our laws,” said Courtney. “Soon after Michael Clarks’ death, his family was notified that the cost of their health care coverage would significantly increase—all because of an inexplicable law. Last month, I introduced legislation in the House to fix this flaw not just for the Clarks but for anyone who might be put in this situation in the future. The introduction of this bill in the Senate is another important step in this push.”

“Our measure would assure National Guard and Reserve families, who sacrifice just as much as active duty families, receive the same health benefits when a servicemember dies,” Blumenthal added.

The legislation has been endorsed by the National Guard Association of the United States, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the National Military Families Association and Blue Star Families.

“This important legislation will provide surviving families of Guard and Reserve members with the same benefits as their active-duty counterparts. Surviving families, regardless of duty status or cause of death, should not have to worry about access to critical healthcare and mental health coverage during difficult periods of loss and grief,” said TAPS President and Founder Bonnie Carroll.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Spc. Michelle U. Blesam/U.S. Army photo