UPDATE: GM Retirees to Get Dental, Vision Coverage Back

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LANSING -- Retired General Motors and Chrysler workers will get their once-revoked dental and vision coverage back, according to a release from the trust that administers health care for retirees.

A statement to workers found by News 10 on the Facebook page for Local UAW 598 says because of "questions raised and speculation on this issue," VEBA (the union-run trust) is releasing the following information:

Former GM and Chrysler hourly employees will have coverage for a preventive dental program and routine vision exams every 24 months, among other changes to retirees of all the Big Three automakers.

The coverage will begin in 2012.

This had been a sore spot for retired workers after GM and the UAW announced their tentative deal last Friday.

Rudy Reyes, for instance, worked at General Motors for nearly 40 years.

"In one day, it went, 'Swoop,' and the dental and optical was gone," he said. "Just totally gone."

The United Auto Workers ceded dental and vision coverage for retired workers back in the days of GM's bankruptcy crisis in 2008.

Reyes said he was hoping the latest tentative four-year deal between the automaker and the union would reinstate at least one of those benefits.

"Out-of-pocket money, it comes out to way over $500 a year, way over $500," Reyes says of his expense for dental care.

But GM for years has argued retiree health care is simply too expensive. Before its trip through bankruptcy, the automaker said it had spent $103 billion on insurance in just 15 years.

And with an army of 400,000 retirees, something had to give.

GM retiree and national advocate Leroy McKnight wasn't buying it, noting GM's sales are up and its workforce is down.

"We've seen the wages cut in half in the last agreement, from $28 an hour to $14 an hour, and we've seen the retirees come under attack," he said.

McKnight blamed the loss of retiree benefits on a plan in 2007, just before bankruptcy, that unloaded GM's retiree insurance obligations into a trust called a VEBA (Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Assocation) that was underfunded by billions of dollars.

The deal allowed GM to get its more than $50 billion in retiree health care obligations off its balance sheet, but left open the possibility the funds could run out.

Now, it would appear the VEBA is well-equipped to restore some lost benefits to retirees.

Officials from the VEBA, the UAW Local 602 and UAW Local 652 were not available Thursday for comment.

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