Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has proposed changes to programs for military personnel that could affect private insurers and financial advisors.[@@]

Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, released a package of proposals for reforming the military Wednesday before he spoke at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati.

Many of the military reform proposals focus on topics such as doubling the size of special forces units, but Kerry also talks about benefits issues and tax issues that affect members of the National Guard and Reserve.

“The last thing our servicemen and women need on their minds is the stress of wondering if their loved ones back home will be okay,” Kerry said during the VFW speech, according to a prepared version of his remarks. “What they need is a president who protects their families while they are putting their lives on the line protecting the American family. That means making sure families have competitive pay, good housing, decent health care and quality education for their children.”

The biggest military benefits change Kerry has suggested would extend eligibility for the enormous TriCare military health insurance program to all members of the National Guard and Reserve.

Today, members of the Guard and Reserve are eligible for premium TriCare coverage for themselves and their dependents only if they are activated for 30 days or more or, under a temporary provision, if they are not eligible for health coverage from their civilian employers, according to TriCare program administrators.

In the past, the U.S. General Accountability Office has estimated that 20% of military reservists lacked health coverage when they were not on active duty.

Kerry says he would include access to TriCare for Guard members, reservists and family members in a new Military Family Bill of Rights.

Kerry also has proposed offering tax breaks to help small business owners cope with the cost of losing the services of employees while the employees are on active military duty.

A third change would let members of the Guard and Reserve make penalty-free withdrawals of individual retirement account funds to cover costs related to military deployments.