Q. You have said a former spouse remains eligible for military health care if the sponsor's active duty and the marriage overlapped by at least 20 years. But you've also said that if a sponsor dies, the spouse's Tricare coverage is not affected and that the duration of the marriage is not a factor. I've been seeing a lady who is divorced from a military retiree and has Tricare for Life under his name. I'm also a military retiree with TFL. I've been told that if we married, she would lose Tricare through her ex-spouse, and if I died, she would lose Tricare through me, since we would not have been married for 20 years. Can you advise?
A. The two situations you cite involve distinct circumstances. One involves a former spouse, the other involves a current spouse whose retiree sponsor dies.
The so-called "20/20/20 rule" comes into play in divorce cases involving military retirees. A former spouse may retain Tricare benefits after divorce if the marriage lasted 20 years, the military member served on active duty for at least 20 years and the marriage and active-duty service overlapped for at least 20 years.
In such cases, a former spouse may retain Tricare coverage — as long as she does not remarry. If she does, she loses Tricare eligibility under her former husband's sponsorship. Once lost, it can never be restored under that sponsor's name, even if the former spouse's second marriage ends in divorce or death.
The other situation you cite involves a spouse whose military retiree sponsor dies before her. In this case, the 20-year rule does not apply. A spouse covered by Tricare whose retiree sponsor dies before her remains eligible for Tricare for the rest of her life, regardless of how long the marriage lasted — again, unless she remarries.
If you get married, your wife would lose Tricare for Life under her ex-husband's sponsorship. However, she would immediately become eligible for Tricare for Life coverage under your sponsorship.
If you die before her, she would remain eligible for Tricare under your sponsorship for the rest of her life unless she remarries.
Q. I am a retired Air National Guardsman yet to reach age 60, but my wife is eight years older than I am. Will she have to wait until I reach retirement age before she can get Tricare?
A. Yes. Spouses of reserve-component retirees generally do not qualify for military health care benefits until their retiree sponsors reach age 60.
Under a 2008 change in law, reservists can qualify for military retirement benefits, including health care, three months earlier than age 60 for every three months of certain active-duty service, primarily duty in support of contingency operations, down to age 50.
But that change is not retroactive; qualifying duty only counts if it was performed after the law took effect. Few, if any, reserve retirees are drawing retirement benefits earlier than age 60 just yet.
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