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State House approves National Guard benefits bill

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Thousands of Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard members would receive $250,000 life insurance policies under legislation approved by the state House Tuesday.

The bill, part of Gov. Brad Henry's Operation Homefront program, passed the House 99-0 and is headed to a joint House-Senate conference committee for more work. It was previously passed by the Senate.

"This measure ensures financial security for the families of National Guard members who give so much to defend us from terrorism here and abroad," Henry said following the bill's passage.

Another part of the governor's program is awaiting a hearing in the House. That measure would exempt half of all military pensions from the state income tax and create a checkoff box for Oklahomans to donate all or part of their tax refund to National Guard families who need financial help.

"The men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard should never doubt our support of their mission and our appreciation of their many sacrifices," Henry said.

The life insurance measure authorizes the state to purchase $250,000 policies for all Army and Air National Guard members. There are currently 9,615 Oklahomans serving in the National Guard.

A $250,000 policy costs $16.25 a month and the total cost to the state would be about $1.87 million a year.

Only one member of the Oklahoma National Guard, Spec. Kyle A. Brinlee of Pryor, has been killed in the line of duty. But Rep. John Carey, the measure's author, said more deaths are possible given the heavy rotation of Guard units in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brinlee, 21, died on May 11 near Alasad, Iraq, when an explosive blew up the vehicle in which he was riding.

Carey, D-Durant, said many National Guard members are young men and women with children who struggle every day to pay for basic needs.

"When it comes to priorities, life insurance tends to fall behind buying clothes for the kids or putting gas in the car and food on the table," said Carey, chairman of the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

"Given the risk these men and women take by serving in the Guard..., the least we can do as a state is buy them life insurance so their families aren't left destitute if the unthinkable happens."

The measure is Senate Bill 821.
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