Kentucky National Guard soldiers deployed without health insurance for weeks

Kentucky Guard soldiers 149th vertical construction company
Posted at 7:51 AM, Nov 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-07 07:51:46-05

Soldiers of the 149th Vertical Construction Company out of Cynthiana, Kentucky, deployed to the southern border of the United States Oct. 15. The health care benefits they are guaranteed as part of their activation didn’t deploy with them.

After not getting a lot of immediate answers, a soldier from the deployed group of 120 reached out with concern on behalf of his wife and his fellow soldiers. In turn, WCPO reached out to Kentucky National Guard leaders and discovered a long-standing problem.

“The new pay system we've had — it's been fraught with a lot of problems, nothing is automatic. And it seems like everything is a manual transaction,” said Army Colonel James Richmond, director of personnel for the Kentucky Army National Guard.

When orders come down, leadership at with the National Guard submit the soldier’s information into the system for pay and benefits. However, when that happens, the guard’s computer system and the active Army system don’t appear to work well together.

"There is currently a disconnect between the personnel and pay system for the Army National Guard and the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Report System (DEERS) systems," said Carla A. Raisler LTC, SC Director of Public Affairs, KYNG.

In an email chain between the wife of one of the 149th soldiers, KYNG, Tricare and a DEERS representative, frustration could be seen within the ranks and those responsible for ensuring soldiers receive their benefits in a timely manner.

One of the emails was a response from the Human Resources Systems Branch Chief from Joint Force Headquarters pointedly noting the timeline of the problems.

“This process is a systemic issue (that has gone on for many years) that cannot be resolved until there is someone who can make a change at the General Officer/Congressional levels,” responded M. Jason McIntosh.

But it’s not like the National Guard Bureau isn’t aware of the problem.

Sept. 20, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Daniel Hokanson, spoke about the issue during a media roundtable. His opening remarks tied the issue to overall readiness.

"Today, there are approximately 60,000 Guardsmen who do not have health insurance,” said Hokanson. "Even our Guardsmen who have healthcare coverage through their civilian employer, face challenges when they change duty status, because moving between civilian healthcare and TRICARE can create gaps in coverage. This can cause undue financial and medical hardships for our Soldiers, Airmen, and families. The current lack of healthcare coverage for National Guard members impacts readiness, recruitment, and retention."

There’s a push for a TRICARE for all health plan wherein members of the Guard and Reserve would already fall under the healthcare plans as part of their standby service outside of deployments. The idea to make it easier for when guard members are activated.

WCPO learned of the issue on Tuesday, Nov 1 and made inquiries the same day. Richmond said once his team was alerted to it they began the process to manually fix each soldiers record.

“So, we're sympathetic to the plight of families, and everybody jumped the fire hoops, once we knew that this was an issue, and all but two are fixed right now. And those two that that are still being worked on,” he said.

Richmond adds that changes will be made for future deployments as the National Guard Bureau tries to work on a better fix.

“I think moving forward is internal to the Kentucky National Guard, we're going to put in place some checks and balances just to validate the soldiers are rolled over into the personnel system and eligible for that health care,” he said.

The soldiers of the 149th Vertical Construction Company are on a 12-month deployment.