National Guard members who’ve been protecting the U.S. Capitol will receive credit toward Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, according to a Jan. 28 National Guard Bureau memo sent to lawmakers.
That’s good news for the men and women on this mission, but it shines a light on the need for urgent duty status reform – a key MOAA advocacy issue and something that would help all members of the reserve component have a better understanding of, and improved access to, their earned benefits.
“For Congress to have to question the application of these benefits, and for a two-star general in the National Guard to weigh in with a two-page memo, it’s clear the system needs changed,” said Cory Titus, director of veteran benefits and guard/reserve affairs for MOAA’s Government Relations team. “Lawmakers won’t always be so intimately involved in these missions. Reserve component members must have clarity on what they’ve earned, and no servicemembers on duty at the same time and in the same place should receive different sets of benefits.”
Not all service performed under Title 32 orders qualifies a servicemember for education benefits, the memo states. Those in D.C. in January earned the benefit because they were part of a National Special Security Event (NSSE); those who’ve been part of the coronavirus response also earn credit toward Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, per the memo, because of the COVID-19 national emergency declaration made March 13, 2020.
Those who served in Washington, D.C., in June 2020 to contain civil disturbances won’t be able to put their time in uniform toward these benefits, per the memo, because no such event designation or disaster declaration was in place. This also would apply to similar missions at the state level, which “are typically conducted in a State Active Duty status,” the memo states.
“While I am pleased that the National Guard members protecting our Capitol will be able to earn GI Bill benefits for their service, this confusion was another poignant reminder that too often servicemembers taking on the same risks as their active duty counterparts aren’t getting the same benefits,” said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC), in a Jan. 28 press release. “We shouldn’t have to search for a justification to give the soldiers who fought fires, helped respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and guarded our nation’s Capitol the benefits they have earned.”
As DoD considers ongoing duty status reform efforts and Congress looks at potential legislative fixes – the press release notes a bill from HVAC member Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) that would address GI Bill parity issues – MOAA will focus on promoting its guiding principles for what this reform should look like:
- Make it easier to serve in the National Guard and Reserve. Confusing order types lead to misunderstandings about pay, health care coverage, and earned benefits.
- A day of federal service is a day of federal service. Servicemembers doing the same job in the same place should not earn different pay and benefits.
- Health care is a necessity for readiness. Guard and Reserve members should be eligible for affordable TRICARE options, including during the “gray area” years between retiring from service and being old enough to collect retirement pay.
Any plan that follows those principles, Titus said, “would not require Congressional intervention to determine what mission earned which benefits for which servicemembers. MOAA will work with all parties toward reforms that would simplify this process and reward these men and women for their service in a clear, fair way.”