MOAA joined three dozen organizations in an April 24 letter to top lawmakers on the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees seeking federal survivor benefits for the families of all National Guard members who die of coronavirus-related causes while activated to combat the pandemic.
While nearly 45,000 members of the National Guard were in service as part of COVID-19 response as of April 27, not all are serving under Title 32 orders. Those not under Title 32 are not eligible for TRICARE, education, and death gratuity benefits.
MOAA and other organizations have sought Title 32 orders for all National Guard personnel, but the April 24 letter goes farther, seeking “legislation to secure federal survivor benefits to the families of Guard members activated under state orders who die of COVID-19 related causes.”
The letter highlights Capt. Douglas Hickok of the New Jersey National Guard, who died March 28 of COVID-19. Hickok attended training for a Guard deployment on state orders days before his death, Stars and Stripes reported, which would’ve made his family eligible for federal benefits had the deployment been under Title 32 orders. President Donald Trump authorized Title 32 activation for New Jersey National Guard members on the day Hickock died.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides support and advocates for the families of fallen servicemembers, composed the letter, which went to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), as well as their leadership counterparts in the House: Chairman Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). MOAA joined other military and veteran service organizations among the signatories, along with groups such as the American Red Cross and the Society of Federal Health Professionals (AMSUS).
“The National Guard has always answered when our nation needs them,” the letter states, “and they deserve the benefits earned for such selfless service.”