By Producer
NBC News
updated 2/2/2005 4:43:37 PM ET 2005-02-02T21:43:37

Dawn Archuleta served 11 months in Iraq with the New Mexico National Guard. If she's called up again, her biggest fear is not for her personal safety, it's for the well-being of her children if she doesn't come home.

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"That's my biggest worry if something did happen."

Now, New Mexico has taken the lead and is the first in the nation to provide life insurance benefits for members of the state's National Guard.

Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday signed into law a plan to pick up the tab for a $250,000 National Guard death benefit policy.

"Our troops need more than speeches and pats on the back. They need help for their families," he said.

The U.S. government pays a $12,400 death benefit to families of active duty soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are now proposals and bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to increase the death benefit to $100,000.

The Bush administration is also proposing boosting the maximum life insurance amount available to service members to $400,000 from the current $250,000.

New Mexico not waiting on Washington
But Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico did not want to wait on Washington. Since states cannot legislate for full-time military personnel (they are federal employees) his legislation would provide three benefits:

  • $250,000 life insurance policy for each of the 4,000 members of the Guard. The cost to the state will be  $850,000 a year. Currently, 400 members of the New Mexico National Guard are serving in Iraq.
  • Tax cuts for retired military personnel living in New Mexico.
  • A checkoff system on state income tax forms, so residents can give some or all of their tax refunds to help returning vets and their families.

The word is out on Richardson's proposal. According to the National Council on State Governments, at least 16 states are now considering similar legislation.

The council's financial analyst, Sujit Canagagretna, calls the New Mexico plan "politically brilliant, ... an example of innovative ideas which come from the states and are later adopted by Congress."

Back in New Mexico, Dawn Archuleta would probably agree.

Jack Chesnutt is an NBC News producer based in Denver. The Associated Press also contributed to this article.

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