America should keep its promises

America should keep its promises by Sen. Tim Johnson Most military retirees can tell you precise details about the day they walked into their local recruiting office and signed up to serve their country.� Military recruiters routinely promised these young men and women that the government would provide lifetime health care to military retirees and their dependents if they served at least 20 years.�

By 1956, the rising costs of health care led Congress to limit the benefits on a "space available" basis � even though many recruiters continued to make the promise.�That had the effect of limiting the federal government's commitment to military retiree health care.�

In 1996, a group of military retirees filed a law suit in federal court saying the government failed to meet its promise to provide medical care to these veterans. It took six years before they received an answer.� While sympathetic to their argument, the court held that only Congress can authorize the level of health care the government will provide to military retirees.�

During this time, I decided Congress needed to take steps to help ordinary retirees.�In 2000, Congress enacted my TRICARE for Life legislation which provided health care to Medicare-eligible military retirees. While that was a big move forward, retiree health care was still lacking.

The original Tricare still required them to pay Medicare Part B premiums. It is time we take the next step.

On Feb. 11, I introduced the Keep Our Promises to America's Military Retirees Act to go further in fulfilling our commitments to our military retirees.� The health care benefits of nearly 5600 South Dakota military retirees would be improved in three ways:

1 � The bill waives the required Medicare Part B payments under TRICARE for Life for military retirees who entered the service prior to December 7, 1956. This would give these military retirees the free health care they were promised.

2 � For military retirees underserved by TRICARE, the bill would give them the option of electing coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) rather than TRICARE.�

3 � Finally, the bill establishes a system to reimburse pharmacy expenses � at TRICARE rates � for military retirees who cannot access TRICARE pharmacies due to physical or medical constraints.

This bill has been endorsed by the Military Officers Association of America, the National Association for Uniformed Services, the Retired Enlisted Association, and the Air Force Sergeants Association. I am proud to be working with these distinguished military retiree organizations on this issue.

I know how poor health care and broken promises can reduce morale within our military. A poor "quality of life" among our active duty personnel, veterans, and military retirees has a direct impact on recruitment and retention of the best and brightest in our Armed Forces.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass the Keep Our Promises to America's Military Retirees Act and to ensure our servicemembers, our veterans, and our military retirees have the health care they deserve.

Long ago, promises were made to those Americans who chose to serve. It is past time we made good on them.

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