July 13, 2023

Duckworth Introduces Legislation to Improve Nation’s Security, Strengthen the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

New bill would help ensure the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps can recruit, retain and mobilize members to better respond to national and global public health crises


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today introduced new legislation to improve national security by strengthening our United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC). The Parity for Public Health Service Ready Reserve Act would empower the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to recruit, retain and mobilize an elite sustainment force of Public Health Service uniformed servicemembers in response to public health emergencies. The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is one of the nation’s eight uniformed services, and is the only uniformed service with an exclusive focus on protecting our nation during public health emergencies, such as such as Ebola, natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) joined Duckworth in introducing this legislation.

“One of the most critical lessons we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is how important it is for our country to be prepared for the next public health crisis,” Duckworth said. “Supporting our Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and ensuring Ready Reserve Corps servicemembers have the same benefits as our other uniformed servicemembers will help create more opportunities for Americans to serve and protect our country against current and future public health emergencies. As we approach the 225th anniversary of the Public Health Service this week, I’m proud to introduce this legislation to help strengthen the nation’s national health security.”

“The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is essential in protecting the well-being of Americans,” Wyden said. “These are dedicated service members who are on the front lines of public health emergencies, risking their lives and selflessly serving our nation. Making sure they receive the same support and benefits as other uniformed service members is the right thing to do and will only further strengthen the health of our nation.”

Despite a rich history dating back to 1798, the PHSCC did not have an operational ready reserve component or public health emergency response strike team until the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law in 2020. This was part of a larger modernization effort to ensure the U.S. would be ready to handle any future disease outbreaks, but initial authorization left gaps in personnel policy and benefits for the PHSCC Ready Reserve Corps (RRC) relative to other branches’ Reserve Components. Officers in the PHSCC Ready Reserve deserve the same support provided to all other Reserve Component servicemembers.

The Parity for Public Health Service Ready Reserve Act would:

  • Codify the structure of the RRC in statute, enabling access to benefits and entitlements afforded to Reserve Component servicemembers of all other uniformed services
  • Authorize the PHSCC RRC to have the same dual compensation and leave rights as those of the Armed Forces so all citizens, whether their primary job is working in the private sector or for the Federal government, can go on military leave with pay
  • Extend Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill educational benefits to PHSCC RRC once they meet time-in-service requirements
  • Expand the Reserve Forces Policy Board to include representation of PHSCC
  • Authorize funding to allow for sustainment, recruitment and retention of officers for the PHSCC RRC

This bill is endorsed by the Military Officers Associations of America (MOAA), Commissioned Officers Association (COA), Reserve Officers Association (ROA), and U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association and Enlisted Association. Full text, a section-by-section and a one-pager of the legislation can be found here, here and here.