Rep. Chris Stewart trying to change veterans health-care law

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OGDEN — For the second year in a row, a Utah congressman is trying to change what he calls an outdated medical benefits law for veterans.

Earlier this month, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, introduced the Veterans TRICARE Choice Act, a bill that would allow veterans who use the Department of Defense military health system to also contribute to a Health Savings Account program.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, would give veterans the choice to voluntarily pause their TRICARE benefits in order to participate in an HSA program, something that under current federal law is illegal.

An HSA is a self-owned medical savings account that can be used to pay for medical expenses at any time, without tax liabilities or penalties. Funds deposited into the account aren’t taxed at the time of deposit and are allowed to roll over and accumulate each year if they aren’t used.

Stewart says the plans have become increasingly popular in the private sector and would allow veterans to pay for medical costs while proactively saving for future medical expenses.

For nearly 15 years, Stewart served as an Air Force pilot, flying rescue helicopters and the B-1B bomber. The congressman said he has an insider’s understanding of the military and its health-care system and thinks veterans working in the private sector should have the same health-care options as their civilian co-workers.

Stewart says the current law that requires TRICARE-eligible veterans who served in the military be denied access to other health plans unless they permanently opt out of TRICARE isn’t fair.

“As a former Air Force officer, I know firsthand about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families,” Stewart said in a statement. “It’s important that we honor our veterans by ensuring that they have access to the best health-care options for themselves and their families.”

The bill was first introduced last year and garnered the support of 83 bipartisan co-sponsors, as well as support from the National Guard Association of the United States, the Retired Enlisted Association and the Association of the United States Navy, but ultimately stalled.