Operation Lone Star members are getting short-changed when it comes to health and death benefits. Since it was Gov. Greg Abbott who deployed them instead of President Joe Biden.
“We don’t get any of the — or most of the — federal protections and benefits,” Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Suelzer, leader of the Texas Military Department, told lawmakers at a recent hearing of the Texas House Homeland Security & Public Safety and Defense & Veterans’ Affairs Committees.
What does this mean?
When a soldier is killed in the line of duty, the family would receive $100,000 to help with funeral costs and other expenses. However, members of Abbott’s border initiative only receive state workers’ compensation, which is 75 percent of a soldier’s pay from their civilian job, as reported by The Texas Tribune.
The compensation is paid out weekly in addition to up to $10,000 in reimbursements for funeral costs.
Troops activated by Abbott are also getting less coverage for injuries.
Usually, soldiers injured on federal duty get care under Tricare, for active service members there is no enrollment fee and no annual deductible, and most out-of-pocket costs are nominal.
However, those injured during Operation Lone Star are only eligible for the state’s workers’ compensation program – which according to several records it is a nightmare to navigate.
In 2017, 1 in 4 workers’ comp claims were rejected. From 2017 to 2021, state records show 306 soldiers filed claims for workers’ compensation, with 222 being accepted.
This leaves soldiers with unpaid medical bills and lost wages.
According to state Rep. James White, a Tyler County Republican who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, the disparity of benefits for guard members who might have federal protections on one deployment and far fewer benefits when they get called up by the governor has always been a problem that was simply magnified by Abbott’s recent deployment.
With more than 6,100 soldiers at the Texas border now, Suelzer told lawmakers he was going to push changes to improve death benefits in the next Texas legislative session in 2023.
But for the moment, it leaves soldiers “rolling the dice” that nothing bad will happen to them.