Active Duty to Guard or Reserve: A Spouse Benefits Guide
If your service member is getting out of active duty and moving into the Guard or Reserves, you're about to start a journey into a whole new set of military benefits -- and probably a lot of confusion.
If you've ever thought that the active-duty military's personnel system doesn't know what's going on, you're about to enter a higher level realm of disorganization and confusion.
Instead of getting frustrated over navigating what your benefits should be and how to get them, be informed. Our guide is based on experience. Yes, we've been there and done that.
You may have heard of transitional Tricare coverage, known as Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP). That program gives your family 180 days of Tricare Prime or Standard coverage after your spouse leaves active duty. Service members and their families qualify for it in a variety of ways, such as if they leave the military as the result of a forced separation or a medical board.
Usually, service members who simply get out of active duty at the end of their contract don't qualify for TAMP. But if you're moving directly from active duty into the National Guard or Reserve with no break in service, you do. To make that work, your service member must leave active duty on July 31, for example, and officially join the Guard or Reserve on Aug. 1. In other words, there cannot be a gap between active duty and Guard or Reserve service.
It is possible that your spouse may not sign in to his or her new Guard or Reserve unit until several days after the first of the month. In that case, his or her new unit can backdate the paperwork to reflect that your spouse entered the day after leaving active duty so that you can take advantage of the TAMP benefit.
If you do not qualify for TAMP, you can purchase Tricare through the Tricare Reserve Select program, which is a lot like Tricare Standard. That coverage kicks in on the first of the month after you join. That means if you join the Reserves or Guard during July, Tricare Reserve Select can start Aug. 1. If you join on Aug. 1, however, it cannot start until Sept. 1.
If you're used to using Tricare Prime, which has no co-pays or deductibles, Tricare Reserve Select may bring a few cost surprises, as you are required to pay out of pocket for things such as eye exams and sick appointments.
If you've been enrolled in Tricare's dental program, your coverage will end on the first day of the month following whenever you leave active duty. That means if you leave the military July 1, your coverage will go through July 31. You can continue your Tricare dental coverage while Guard or Reserve, but the premium is almost three times higher than you paid on active duty.
Shopping and recreation benefits
Guard and Reserve members can still shop in the commissary and exchange. If you are a spouse who loves the commissary, or you live in a high cost-of-living area where the commissary prices do make a big difference to your bottom line, this is great news. To shop there, you simply need to present your ID card when requested, just as you did before your family left active duty.
Now that you're a Guard or Reserve family, you'll need to get new ID cards. Instead of the brown one you've had before, your Guard or Reserve card will be red. It still identifies you as a military family member and it still works at the commissary or exchange. However, unless you are purchasing Tricare Reserve Select or Tricare's dental plan, you should not use this ID card for any health care.
If you qualify for TAMP, you'll also get a second ID card that is only for medical needs and has an expiration date that reflects your health care end date. It will not scan at the commissary, but it will let you get on base and it is what you should give your doctor's office when they ask for your military ID or health insurance card. Some ID card issuing facilities and DEERS offices may be confused about giving you two ID cards if you are both in the Guard or Reserve and using TAMP benefits. If you have TAMP and are Guard or Reserve, insist on receiving two cards so that you will be able to access all of your benefits.
Most businesses that offer military discounts won't know the difference between your new red Guard or Reserve ID card and the brown active-duty one you had before. But it's possible that some businesses will no longer extend discounts you're used to receiving because your family is no longer active duty.
Military discounts are totally at the discretion of individual businesses. If you're refused a discount because you are no longer active duty, just let it go and move on.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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