Congressman Tom Latham says support is building to extend federal health care benefits to America’s part-time soldiers. This week, Latham sent a letter to a committee of House and Senate members that’s deciding whether to give Guard and Reserve soldiers government-paid health insurance, and he got 84 other members of the House to sign-on to the letter.

“It’s just a matter of fairness and I think we’re on track right now to actually be successful in getting this done for the people who have done so much for our country,” Latham says. Latham contends that it’s also a matter of national security because it takes longer to mobilize the Guard and Reserve because 20 percent of the country’s part-time soldiers do not have insurance and their health issues have to be resolved before they can go on active duty.

The issue is being considered by the committee of House and Senate members who are drafting a final version of a defense spending bill. Latham, who is a Republican from Alexander, says there’s “broad support” from Republicans and Democrats to make the move. Critics say it’s too costly for the federal government to pay for health care for the Guard and Reserve.

Others worry soldiers in the ranks of America’s full-time military won’t re-enlist but will instead opt to join the Guard and Reserve. Latham rejects that argument.
“Our people coming out of active duty are no longer going into the Guard and what this will do is (provide) a real incentive for them to stay active in the Guard,” Latham says. “So I think the opposite is exactly true.”

Latham was honored this fall by 36 military groups for his long fight to make this change. Latham says lack of health insurance is most acute among Guard and Reserve units in the Midwest, where 40 percent of the part-time soldiers are uninsured.