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By Tom Tobin August 30, 2007

First, but with caveats

Richardson's ad says that, as governor of New Mexico in 2005, he "passed the first law in the nation giving National Guard soldiers $400,000 in life insurance." He sets up the claim, saying: "When a National Guard soldier would fall in combat, the family was only getting $12,000 — a national disgrace."

He says 18 states followed his lead.

We find the claims to be mostly true, though the nitpicker in us needs to point out that no governor can "pass" a law without a big assist from the legislative branch. Also, the ad overstates a couple of points.

Let's focus on the set-up claim first.

At the time in question — early 2005 — the families of fallen service personnel received a $12,420 "death gratuity" or benefit. What the ad does not say is that they probably also received the benefit of a low-cost, government-subsidized life insurance policy covering the soldiers for up to $250,000. About 95 percent of ready reserves purchase this insurance. In fact, it's automatically deducted from their pay unless they opt out.

This overstatement aside, Richardson did initiate and push through legislation to pay the premiums on those policies for members of the New Mexico National Guard. The legislation does amount to "giving" soldiers life insurance, as the ad states.

After Congress upped the maximum payout to $400,000, New Mexico agreed to cover the additional premiums for that coverage.

The $12,420 death benefit, which many others described as disgraceful, was increased to $100,000 by Congress at the same time.

Later in 2005 and 2006, the 18 states mentioned in the ad did pass some form of legislation improving benefits for military personnel. Were they all following Richardson's lead as the ad suggests? Richardson said in a February 2005 news release that 21 states had contacted his office about the insurance program. "Many are preparing legislation based on the New Mexico model," he said. Still, he is far from being a lone voice on the issue.

Only a few months earlier, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was proposing a generous bump in military death benefits during his 2004 presidential run. By mid January 2005, President Bush and many members of Congress from both parties were clamoring to increase death benefits for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We note that Richardson first proposed paying for the premiums to his state's National Guard troops on Jan. 4, 2005. So he does appear to have been on the leading edge of the effort.

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First, but with caveats

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