Reservists Called To Active Duty
U.S. Department of Labor
Reserve and National Guard units called to active duty have rights with respect to the retirement and health benefits provided by their private-sector employers as they prepare to be deployed. This fact sheet provides questions and answers for reservists about their rights protecting their retirement benefits and the health benefit options available to their family members to maintain health coverage during the time of active duty.
The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) administers the laws related to private sector employee benefit plans, including the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). In addition, the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service can provide information on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which provides reservists with many rights beyond those related to employee benefits.
I have been called to active duty and have questions about my employer provided
pension and health benefits. Where can I get more information about my benefits?
My family had health coverage through my employer when I was called for active
duty in the military. What are my rights to health coverage now?
In addition, two laws protect your right to continue health coverage under an employment-based group health plan. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provides health coverage continuation rights to employees and their families after an event such as a reduction in employment hours. USERRA is intended to minimize the disadvantages that occur when a person needs to be absent from civilian employment to serve in the uniformed services.
Both COBRA and USERRA generally allow individuals who leave work for military service to continue coverage for themselves and their dependents under an employment-based group health plan. COBRA provides for 18 months of coverage, with further extensions for certain events. COBRA applies to group health plans maintained by employers with 20 or more employees. USERRA, which applies to all employers, provides for 24 months of coverage. If military service is for 30 or fewer days, you and your family can continue coverage at the same cost as before your short service. If military service is longer, you and you family may be required to pay as much as 102 percent of the full premium for coverage. If your plan is covered by COBRA, you should receive a notice from the plan explaining your rights.
Finally, another law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may give you and your family rights to enroll in other group health plan coverage if it is available to you (for example, if your spouse's employer sponsors a group health plan). You and your family have this opportunity to enroll regardless of the plan's otherwise applicable enrollment periods.
However, to qualify, you must request enrollment in the other plan (for example, your spouse's plan) within 30 days of losing eligibility for coverage under your employer's plan. After special enrollment is requested, coverage is required to be made effective no later than the first day of the first month following your request for enrollment. If you are on active duty more than 30 days, coverage in another plan through special enrollment is often cheaper than continuation coverage because the employer often pays a part of the premium.
Note: When considering your health coverage options, you should examine the scope of the coverage (including benefit coverage and limitations, visit limits, and dollar limits), premiums, cost-sharing (including co-payments and deductibles), and waiting periods for coverage.
If one of my dependents wants to continue with a current doctor or hospital, can
I elect COBRA continuation coverage for only that dependent?
My family was already on COBRA when I was called for active duty.
keep our COBRA coverage?
My family and I had health coverage under my employer's group health plan before
I was called for active duty. We let this coverage lapse while I was away and
took military health coverage. When I return to my employer from active duty,
what are our rights to health coverage under my old plan?
Where can I get more information on COBRA, HIPAA, and
You may also call EBSA's toll-free number at 1.866.444.EBSA (3272) to request one or more copies of the publications or to speak with a benefits advisor. You may also contact EBSA electronically at www.askebsa.dol.gov.
Additional health information for military personnel and their families is also available at:
For information on USERRA, contact the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) office nearest you. Find the office on the VETS Web site at www.dol.gov/vets.
You can also visit the USERRA Employee/Employer Advisor on the VETS Web site. This interactive program has been designed to answer questions about the rights and responsibilities for both employees and employers.
Will my period of active duty be considered a break in service with my employer
and impact my eligibility to participate in my employer's retirement plan or my
vesting or benefit accrual under the plan?
While I am on active duty, is there a requirement for my employer to continue to
make employer contributions to my 401(k) plan?
I am a participant in a 401(k) plan. While I am on active duty, may I give my
spouse or another individual the authority to change my investment allocations
through a power of attorney or other legal document? Can that individual also
apply for a participant loan or hardship withdrawal on my behalf?
I have heard that members of the uniformed services can participate in the
Thrift Savings Plan that the Federal government has for civilian employees.
Where can I get information about that?
Because the TSP record keeper must maintain separate accounts for civilian and uniformed services participants, participants who are both Federal civilian employees and uniformed services members (i.e., reservists) may have two separate accounts. If you have two accounts, you will need to review information about your accounts separately in the civilian and the uniformed services sections of this Web site.
A booklet entitled Summary of the Thrift Savings Plan for the Uniformed Services is available on the TSP Web site.
Under the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act, creditors are required to
drop interest charges down to 6 percent on debt owed by those called to active
duty. Does this apply to a loan from my pension plan?
If I prefer that the interest rate remain higher so that I can accumulate more
money in my pension plan, is the plan administrator required to comply with the
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act and unilaterally reduce the rate?
For more information about retirement benefits, you may obtain copies of the publications mentioned by calling the EBSA toll-free number at 1.866.444.EBSA (3272) or visiting EBSA’s Web site at www.dol.gov/ebsa. If you have questions, you can call the toll-free number or contact EBSA electronically at http://askebsa.dol.gov. For tax-related questions, visit the Internal Revenue Service Web site at www.irs.gov/retirement and look under EP FAQs.
This fact sheet has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Washington, DC 20210. It will be made available in alternate formats upon request: Voice phone: 202.693.8664; TTY: 202.501.3911. In addition, the information in this fact sheet constitutes a small entity compliance guide for purposes of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.