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Medical care for airmen affected by Stop-Loss

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- A previously overlooked provision of law allows up to four months of Tricare transitional health care benefits for airmen separating from the service after having been retained under Stop-Loss.

The benefits will apply to any airman separating after the current and any future Stop-Loss actions, according to officials at the Air Force Personnel Center here.

Because of an administrative oversight, more than 5,000 airmen retained on active duty under the October 2001 to August 2002 Stop-Loss did not get word of the benefit, officials said. The benefit was part of the 2002 Defense Authorization Act.

Letters sent to those former airmen tell them they can file for reimbursement of medical expenses incurred during the 60- to 120-day period after they left the service. But they will not be reimbursed for insurance premiums they may have paid, said Judith Warner, chief of the career assistance and relocation office at the center here.

According to the law, benefits begin on an individual's official date of separation and cannot be adjusted. Individuals who served more than six years on active-duty are entitled to 120 days of coverage. Those with fewer than six years are entitled to 60 days of coverage.

"It's only for a short time but this is a nice benefit, when you look at it," said Lt. Gen. Richard E. "Tex" Brown, deputy chief of staff for personnel at the Pentagon. "Not only for now but for the future.

"It'll make it easier for individuals to transition after they've made that extra sacrifice (of being affected by Stop-Loss)," the general said.

Air Force officials learned of the law's provision when a concerned former major called to ask if airmen affected by Stop-Loss were covered, said Warner.

"We asked for a legal opinion by the AFPC and air staff legal (officials) and received an interpretation from both that the law covered everyone impacted by Stop-Loss," she said.

Information was then sent to Air Force transition offices in early November to explain the situation and how to extend those benefits to airmen who had not yet separated, she said. Analysts then began to identify and notify each affected person.

People eligible for coverage who have paid for health care expenses out of their pocket may submit a claim form (Department of Defense Form 2642) to Tricare with a copy of the bill to be reimbursed, officials said.

The law does not affect retiring airmen who were held over as result of Stop-Loss because they already retain a continuing entitlement to retiree health care benefits.

Assistance is available from a benefits counselor at military treatment facilities and from Tricare regional offices. The worldwide Tricare Information Center toll free number is (888) 363-2273. Claims information and forms are available at https://tricare.osd.mil by clicking on "TRICARE Map" on the left-hand side of the home page and by using the "search" feature.

People can call the AFPC's family matters operations branch at (800) 581-9437 for assistance. (Courtesy of AFPC News Service)

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