Dr. Liza Pilch, a medical provider at the Military Entrance Processing Command in Chicago, conducts a medical evaluation with an applicant in November 2021.

Dr. Liza Pilch, a medical provider at the Military Entrance Processing Command in Chicago, conducts a medical evaluation with an applicant in November 2021. (Israel Molina)

WASHINGTON — Civilians who face unexpected medical costs while applying to serve in the military could receive financial assistance under a new bill that lawmakers believe will help with recruiting.

A group of senators and House members want to provide applicants with co-pay reimbursements of up to $100 for visits to civilian medical providers during the process of signing up for the military.

Lawmakers said the legislation, called the Applicant Medical Reimbursement Act, would remove a known financial obstacle to enlistment for eligible and interested applicants.

“I have heard from the Minnesota National Guard about recruits who want to join the military but drop out of the process once it’s clear there are medical costs they will have to shoulder on their own,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the bill’s lead sponsor.

The military medical screening system often involves out-of-pocket expenses for applicants to see civilian providers, said Army Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, the senior leader of the Minnesota National Guard.

“This congressional effort helps remove barriers to the enlistment process for all future service members across the nation,” he said in a statement.

The legislation is the latest attempt by lawmakers to address the military’s ongoing recruiting troubles. The services collectively missed their recruiting goals by about 41,000 recruits in fiscal 2023, which ended Sept. 30.

The Navy is expected to fall short of its enlistment goals again this year. The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Space Force are on track to meet their goals, though lawmakers have criticized the Army for lowering its enlistment target to achieve a more favorable recruiting outcome.

Military officials have said a dwindling number of young people are qualified to serve, and few are interested when the civilian job market offers competitive pay and benefits.

“We should be doing everything in our power to make life easier for the patriotic men and women who choose to join our armed forces — that’s what this common sense, bipartisan bill will do,” said Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said many applicants are forced to choose between paying for certain medical appointments out-of-pocket, which can result in long wait times, or ending their enlistment process altogether.

All new recruits must undergo a medical evaluation at a Military Entrance Processing Station to determine their fitness to serve. Some are also ordered to see specialty consultants, who can be either military or civilian, according to military regulations.

“Our bipartisan bill would address current gaps in coverage and better ensure that those who desire to serve our country are not hindered or prohibited by medical costs,” Young said in a statement.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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