House Extends Citizen Soldier Health Coverage

The House voted early Thursday to extend health coverage for reservists, reflecting the longer periods of active duty (searchbeing required of National Guard (searchand Reserve (search) members.

The legislation, approved by voice vote, increases from 18 months to 24 months the maximum period under which reservists covered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (searchcan continue employer-sponsored health care coverage.

The bill also strengthens lease termination protections enacted into law last year for the dependents of service members who are given military orders to move.

Another provision outlines civil penalties for fiduciaries who misuse the assets of service members.

Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and others expressed regret that the final bill did not contain a provision allowing the Veterans Affairs Department to provide postnatal care to newborns of female veterans receiving maternity care who are without other health insurance coverage.

Separately, the House passed by voice a bill that expands a 2001 law that provides grants to programs addressing the problem of homeless veterans. Smith estimated that since 2001 the numbers of homeless veterans had decreased from 275,000 to 200,000.

The bill authorizes $99 million for homeless veterans in 2005, and also expands a program to help veterans who were victims of sexual trauma while serving in the military. Both bills must still be considered by the Senate.