Oh, What a Difference a Day Makes
You may have noticed that there’s a lot going on these days. Nations across the world are fighting against a pandemic, the likes of which we’ve not seen in a generation. We have doctors and nurses on the front lines, treating those who have contracted COVID-19. We have researchers and scientists working around the clock to find something that can help in this fight. To top it all off, the governors of all 50 states have activated components of their Army and Air National Guard.
By some accounts, over 44,000 Soldiers have been activated and given missions that directly support our nation’s fight against this pandemic. They support community testing sites, provide logistical support, transport supplies, fill empty call center positions, distribute food and other supplies, build field hospitals, all while cleaning and disinfecting everything in sight. These are some of America’s finest, serving at a time when no one else can.
Serving Two Masters
The National Guard falls into a unique position that may be unfamiliar to those of us who served on active duty only. Each state has a Guard that is considered a state organization and is commanded by each state’s governor. Under normal circumstances, a Guard unit’s activation is paid for by that state.
However, Guard units can be federally activated under a Title 10 designation and become “active duty”, meaning they are full-time Soldiers for the duration of their mission. When this happens, the funding for these units falls primarily on the federal government, which makes sense; but they can be utilized outside of their state boundaries.
Under a Title 32 activation, the Guard units are primarily active duty, but within their state boundaries. Under Title 32, the governor has the ability to place a Soldier into full-time duty, with the state maintaining operational control. This status is also funded by federal dollars. Under this designation, a governor may also use the Guard in a law enforcement capacity.
Currently, when National Guard Soldiers are activated for more than 30 days, they have access to enhanced benefits, like access to the Tricare medical system while they are on duty. The benefit also extends to their dependents.
If Guard units are sent on overseas assignments, they receive the same medical care for six months following their mission. This ensures that any health issues related to the deployment are taken care of. The guidelines for this are espoused in the Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP).
However, the six months of transitional health benefits do not apply if their deployment is domestic. The Guard units that have been activated in response to this pandemic are “deployed” domestically, essentially on the front lines of this crisis.
In addition to medical care, these National Guard soldiers are eligible for a wide range of benefits that affect their retirement and GI Bill benefits. In order to qualify for these awesome benefits, the soldiers need to serve under their Title 32 orders for at least 90 days.
Therein lies the problem. The Guard’s orders were extended from May 31st to June 24th, which gives them only 89 days of active service. That’s one day short of the minimum time needed to receive these enhanced benefits, and it’s hard to see that as coincidental.
A Critical Response
For the past few weeks, legislative officials from most states have contacted congressional leaders to voice their concerns surrounding what seems to be a strategically selected date for deactivation of the National Guard. The White House has drawn criticism from some officials who claim that the early termination date is a means to save money. One of these is Congressman Max Rose, representing New York’s 11th District and a Captain in the National Guard. In mid-April, Rose himself returned from a two week deployment with his National Guard unit supporting the coronavirus response on Staten Island.
On May 22nd, US House Representatives Steven Palazzo (R-MS) and Joe Cunningham (D-SC) introduced the Support Our National Guard Act, which would give transitional health care benefits to service members who were activated in response to COVID-19 under Title 32 Authority. Representative Palazzo is a co-chair of the House National Guard and Reserve Caucus and is a strong supporter of their mission.
Several Senators, including Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), have sent letters to the White House asking for a swift resolution to this problem. They are two among numerous Senate members who are serving or have previously served in the National Guard.
On May 28th, President Trump announced in a tweet that he was extending the Title 32 orders of the National Guard through “mid-August” so they can continue in their mission of supporting the response of their states to COVID-19:
This is great news for the Soldiers of the National Guard who have been away from their families during these unprecedented times. They deserve every benefit we can give to them, especially medical, retirement, and education benefits.
(Imagery by Diego Gonzalez on Unsplash)
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About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.