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Defense Spending Bill Extends Benefits
Associated Press  |  November 16, 2005
WASHINGTON - The children of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan or in support operations would no longer have their military health insurance cut off after three years, under a defense spending bill passed Tuesday by the Senate.

Instead, the children would remain covered at no extra cost until they reach age 21, or 23 if they are still enrolled in school. Previously, the children of soldiers killed in combat had to pay a premium equal to what's paid by retired veterans' dependents if they wanted to keep the coverage more than three years after the soldier's death.

Shauna Moore of Cincinnati, whose husband, Sgt. Benjamin Moore, was killed in training in 2003 when their daughter Hannah was 2 months old, said the extension was long overdue.

"I was so surprised (by the three-year limit) because before becoming a widow, I always heard the military takes care of widows and children," Moore said. "But there are definitely breaks in the benefits programs."

If the Senate Bill is approved, child survivors will be treated as if they were the children of active soldiers, instead of the current practice of treating them as retirees' dependents. That will also help them get top medical care that children of retirees haven't been able to get during wartime, said Joyce Razer of the National Military Family Association.

Razer, the association's director of government relations, applauded the bill's passage, but was disappointed it did not extend active-duty coverage levels to surviving spouses as well.

A surviving spouse still has to pay a premium of $230 a year to maintain the same coverage three years after the soldier dies. The extension for children would save the family another $230 a year in premiums for all dependent children and a $12 copay for each doctor's visit.

The change would affect any children of soldiers killed since Oct. 7, 2001, the start of military action in Afghanistan.

The defense bill passed the Senate 98-0 and covers general military spending. A House version of the bill does not include the change, so the provision will have to be included in a final compromise.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, inserted the extension of the health care benefits as a member of a subcommittee on military construction. He said the extension would end what amounted to punishment for the families whose sacrifice was the greatest.

"If the service member were still alive, he or she would be providing health care for dependent children," DeWine said.

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