Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
Before families of the 210th Military Police Company could make a sandwich of leftovers from Thanksgiving, they were hugging their soldiers goodbye. The North Carolina Army National Guard hosted a deployment ceremony for the 210th Military Police Company at Myers Auditorium at Southwestern Community College, on Nov. 26.
The unit was deploying to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 210th, which is comprised of members of the National Guard from Western North Carolina, is primarily responsible for providing security and enforcement operations for military bases.
Their most recent deployment isn’t unusual. The unit has been deployed previously in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014, Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991. The MPs have received numerous unit awards to include a Valorous Unit Award for their service in Iraq and North Carolina Governor’s Unit Citation for outstanding performance.
While the deployment wasn’t unusual, families of the soldiers found themselves in an unusual situation regarding their insurance and the deployment. Families of soldiers took to Facebook to report that a lapse in their insurance which occurred ofter the soldiers went active, left families without insurance, having to pay out-of-pocket in the height of flu season.
“The unit was placed on pre-alert status in May and that meant that all soldiers and family members were covered by Tricare [insurance provided when soldiers are put on alert or deployed],” said a wife of a member of the 210th. “The pre-alert status ended on Nov. 25 and was replaced by active duty status on Nov. 26. In early November, I had called to check on an issue with our dental coverage and was told at that time, active duty orders had not been submitted to the state and our coverages were due to end. I didn’t think much of it, assumed that it would be taken care of. I called again on Nov. 26 to double check and was told that we were no longer covered because the orders still had not been updated on the state level.”
The National Guard is under the dual control of the state and federal government. Insurance and other aspects of the program are handled on the federal level. When a squadron is placed on prealert status, or active duty, the state must update their status and report to the federal government.
When the 210th received their pre-alert status, a lapse in paperwork or other issue on the state level, caused the federal government not to be updated and the lapse in insurance occurred. According to wives and relatives of members of the 210th, during their experience with the National Guard, such a lapse had never occurred.
“This is the fourth time my husband has been deployed with the National Guard and this is the first time there has ever been a lag in coverage,” said the wife. “It is also the first time he did not receive a copy of his orders until after they were already in place.”
Within hours of being made aware of the situation, both North Carolina House Representative Kevin Corbin and Congressman Mark Meadows got to work to remedy the situation immediately.
“As soon as we got word in my legislative office of the issues, we went to work on it,” said Rep. Corbin. “This was one of those times that everyone agrees on the needed outcome, it’s just that the right people needed to be contacted to get the work done. I want to thank my friend Congressman Mark Meadows and his office for their quick response to help the 210th and their families. Our two offices worked in tandem on the issues and were able to get them resolved quickly. Being deployed is stress enough and we appreciate the willingness of these men and women to serve our country.”
Originally, Thomas Bowlin, Director of Government Affairs with the North Carolina National Guard informed both Corbin and Meadows’ office that, “Sometimes there is a lag when they switch from early Tricare to full Tricare when they go on federal orders; a process that can take 3-5 business days to populate the Tricare change in the personnel system. Worst case is a family may have to seek medical care during the lag and pay some amount up front, but it will be reimbursed when the personnel system recognizes the policy change.”
Except the lag was 3-5 days. From the time the soldiers went active on Nov. 26, their families were without insurance until Dec. 7. Corbin and Meadows were made aware of the situation late Friday, Dec. 3, and began contacting members of National Guard as well as members of the families who had been impacted.
“We wanted to do whatever we could to help remedy the situation as quickly as possible,” said Meadows. “When we call our soldiers to duty, we expect them to show up right away, not 11 days later. They should be able to expect the same from us.”
Bowlin sent an update to Meadows and Corbin on Wednesday afternoon saying that, “There has been a lag in the system posting insurance status recently between the transition from early Tricare to standard Tricare; any medical care required during the lag will be reimbursed. We anticipate that coverage will be reflected as active today [Dec. 6]. We have spoken with the unit POC and he is aware of the issue and the concern it is causing. We will verify their coverage is active and maintain communication with the unit.”
On Thursday morning, the families were able to use their insurance again.
“It is good to know that people in the government care how these things affect others,” said the wife of 210th member.