Getting a fair deal for National Guard members

During disasters, the assistance provided by members for the Army National Guard and Air National Guard have proved invaluable to the victims of disaster but also in support of the work of first responders at the scene, such as during the wildfires in Eastern and Central Washington the last two fire seasons and, of course, in the aftermath of the Oso landslide in March 2014.

During the Oso response, National Guard members assisted in the search and recovery of victims and also offered their skill and equipment in decontaminating search crews covered in the muck that carried hazardous materials spilled during the landslide.

The unit responding at Oso included members of the Guard’s Homeland Response Forces, one of 10 such forces nationwide that are assigned to respond in each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regions.

A unit of about 570 Guard members, the Homeland Response Forces are on scene in as little as six hours and provide search and rescue, decontamination, medical triage and stabilization and assistance with casualties. The force that responded to the Stillaguamish Valley following the Oso landslide was one of the first such forces formed in 2010.

But following the response in Oso, 1st District Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, heard from some Guard members who, unlike the health care coverage they earn while on full-time duty, were without health coverage for themselves and their families during their Homeland Response Force duty, an oversight left over from creation of the response forces.

DelBene responded with legislation last August that corrects the lack of coverage for National Guard members called to serve during disasters. House Resolution 4554 would require that National Guard members assigned to the Homeland Response Forces following their full-time duty receive Tricare coverage beyond 30 days for themselves and their dependents.

While provided by the armed services’ Tricare coverage system, the cost of the coverage will be paid by the individual states that activate the National Guard units during emergencies.

It’s an additional cost for state taxpayers but a fair one as National Guard members are providing a service to the state that could not be easily or more affordably provided by others.

The legislation got a boost last week, as 2nd District Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, who also is a co-sponsor of the bill, offered the legislation as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which provides the budget for the Department of Defense. The authorization act is expected to come before the full House later this month.

The National Guard provides a great service to the country and to individual states. As we have seen frequently in this state, that service provides aid and equipment quickly and during a time of greatest need to prevent further loss of life and property and allow recovery efforts to begin.

The legislation offered by DelBene and advanced by Larsen allows National Guard members to perform those duties without demanding the additional sacrifice of going without health care coverage for themselves and their families.

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