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California's 40th District

May 8, 2024 | In The News, Veterans

Spectrum News

As a wife of an army veteran, Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif. knows all too well the struggle veterans across the country face when leaving active duty service and transitioning to civilian life.

Especially when it comes to health care coverage.

“When they are on active duty, they are covered by this federal government program called TRICARE. But when they separate from active service, that coverage ends and there is all also a lapse between the care that they can receive once they separate from the active duty. So I wanted to fill the gap,” explained Kim in a one-on-one interview with Spectrum News Tuesday.

Kim plans to introduce a new bill Wednesday called the Combat Veterans Pre-Enrollment Act of 2024, which would create a 3-year pilot program through the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow members of the armed services to pre-enroll for their health care instead of being forced to wait 180 days to register. Right now, transitioning service members are required to wait until they have left the military and received their official separation paperwork to apply for Veterans Health Administration health care and other services.

The bill would also create a reporting mechanism, requiring the VA to report to Congress on the program and how many service members utilized the pre-enrollment each year.

To be eligible under the bill’s provisions, a service member must be on active military duty, must already be able to enroll in VA health care and must have served in a theater of combat since Nov. 11, 1998.

“We don’t want servicemembers — after actively serving, defending our country, defending our nation — to come back and transition into civilian life with the added burden of what they need to do if they don’t have [health care] coverage,” said Kim. “It’s common sense…which is why we’re bringing the common sense legislation to make sure service members have an opportunity to opt into the program,” she added.

The VA has seen an uptick in demand for service in recent years, emphasizing the need for veterans to have more immediate access to health care. The VA reported it conducted more than 116 million health care appointments in 2023. In March, the VA announced it had enrolled 401,006 Veterans in VA health care within the past year, 30% more than the 307,831 enrolled the previous year. The VA cites this as the most enrollees since 2016, and “nearly a 50% increase over pandemic-level enrollment in 2020.”

The bill has already received a number of endorsements, including from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Wounded Warrior Project. A companion bill was introduced earlier this year in the Senate by Sens. Angus King, I-Maine; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; and Mike Rounds, R-S.D.

On Kim’s bill, Reps. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif.; Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz.; and Jill Tokuda, D-Hawaii, have signed on.

“I think it shows how shameful we have been in not providing seamless health care to our veterans that are transitioning out of their service in the military, into civilian life, health care for them and their families. It’s imperative that we do that,” said Carbajal, a Marine Corps veteran himself.

We reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for comment, and while the department is “unable to comment on this pending legislation,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told Spectrum News that the VA is “focused on working with our partners at all levels to ensure Veterans and their families have a smooth transition when they depart military service — and get the VA care and benefits they deserve.”

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