OnWatch is a quarterly newsletter of the Fleet Reserve
April 10 2017
Lost Benefits for Guard and Reserves
Service members who service in the Guard or Reserves understand they could be called up to active duty at any time. When this happens in an involuntary situation, they do it with the understanding that they will accrue benefits during their active duty status. However, after a seven-month deployment, nearly 300 Marine reservists discovered when they returned home their time away was not going to count towards their GI Bill benefits. Unfortunately, people do not realize what they have lost until they go to look for it. The deployment these Marine where on took place in late 2016, but the change that allowed for the removal of benefits was a provision that was inserted into the $662 billion, 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Guard and reserve units saw repeated deployments during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. They were mobilized under authority given to them by Title 10 of the United States Code, Section 12302, which provided pre and post-deployment benefits such as Tricare health insurance and GI Bill accrual time. However, as the war continued, the Pentagon looked to create mobilization authorities that would fill operational needs of combatant commands while also trimming the budget. It is not uncommon for reservists to hope to deploy, in part, because education benefits will grow much faster than relying on only drill time. To qualify for the post 9/11 GI bill, reservist service members have to accrue a certain amount of active-duty time. Under this new authority, reservists were activated but few, if any, were aware of the new provision until they returned from deployment and received their post demobilization benefits briefing.
This NDAA provision allows the president to activate up to 230,000 reservists without a congressional emergency declaration and allows up to 60,000 members from the military reserves to be activated without providing them the same benefits as active duty. A report by "Stars and Stripes" estimates this provision has been invoked 4,700 times, by all branches of the military since 2014. Senior reservist and Guard personnel will not be affected by this change in authority, because they will have already accrued enough active-duty time to be eligible for all Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits. However, some of these junior enlisted, many of whom joined with the purpose of accruing benefits for uses either during or after their service, now face the decision of leaving or staying in the guard or reserve due to their contract ending and debating if the benefits are going to be worth the commitment.
Thinking of moral and retention, if these service members are going to be giving up some of their weekends, time away from work and time away from their families, they need to be certain that their service is about more than being told where to go and what to do. Being able to utilize these benefits they will learn, grow and reap the rewards of their time in service. Continuing ones education is constantly being encouraged by senior enlisted and officers alike. A smarter military force is beneficial for all parties, so eliminating educational benefits will only hurt the long-term outlook for reservist and guard members. Understandably, the DoD and Congress would seek ways to lower operating costs, but to do so at the expense of reservist and Guard members who were told they had to go, is unacceptable and detrimental.
Congress introduced legislation in 2016 to repeal this onerous provision, but it failed to make it to the President's desk for enactment. This year, Congressman Steven Palazzo (Miss.) and Senator Al Franken (Minn.) introduced H.R. 1384 and S. 667 respectively, in a continuing effort to fix this problem. These bills would ensure reservist and Guard members are treated the same as active duty, when they are called up to active-duty status.
I strongly encourage everyone to visit FRA's Action Center and send a message to their Representatives and Senators to support these bills. When called for active duty, reservist and Guard members do the same work and are placed in the same environment. In some cases, the same dangers as full time active duty and should receive the same benefits during those times.
*FRA is a Co-sponsor of the Congressional Guard and Reserve Caucus Breakfast. This is an opportunity for members of Congress, National Guard and Military reservist leaders to come together to discuss their priorities and goals for the coming year. The Guard and Reserve Caucus Breakfast was held March 8th in which Congressman Steven Palazzo (Miss.) and Congressman Tim Walz (Minn.) strongly advocated for the approval of H.R. 1384.
OnWatch is a quarterly news update for active duty and Reserve personnel, written by Brian Condon. He served four years on Active Duty in the Marine Corps. Condon began his career with the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), as Assistant Director of Veterans Programs on October 2015. He is committed to FRA's mission to maintain and improve the quality of life for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel and their families. You can reach Brian directly on any of FRA's advocacy issues at BrianC@fra.org