National Guard members can now earn GI Bill benefits for border service

Abbie Bennett
December 16, 2019 - 11:52 am

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Members of the National Guard serving in Operation Guardian Support at the U.S. southern border were not earning eligibility for benefits such as the GI Bill, unlike the active-duty service members they're serving alongside, who also are paid more.

But that changed last week when, after prompting from Congress, Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered that they be allowed to earn education benefits for their border wall service.

Esper wrote in a Dec. 12 memo released to the public last week that  National Guard members performing active service at his request "in support of Department of Homeland Security activities to secure the southern border of the United States are 'responding to a national emergency declared by the president and supported by federal funds'" which means they are eligible to accrue Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits effective Feb. 15, 2019, the date of President Donald Trump's proclamation of a national emergency at the border. 

Esper said the Defense Department also would analyze "any other benefits or entitlements" that arise because of his decision to allow GI Bill benefit accruals.

"The Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Air Force will take necessary actions to ensure that members of the National Guard affected by this determination have a record of their eligibility for any entitlements or benefits," Esper said in the memo. 

To begin to qualify for post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, service members have to serve at least 90 total days of active duty post-Sept. 11, 2001. To qualify for the full GI Bill, service members need to be active a total of at least three years. 

The issue is not a new one, and leaders and advocates told Congress during an October hearing that increasing demands on Guard and Reserve members, without commensurate benefits and pay, could be a national security issue.

Esper's move follows Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., sending him a letter urging him to take action. 

"Whether it’s to South Korea, Afghanistan, or right here at home, all those that deploy in defense of our nation have earned the right to use the GI bill to pursue their educational goals after they separate from military service," Roe said in a statement. " I applaud the Secretary of Defense for doing the right thing and reversing this ill-advised policy that prohibited certain members of the National Guard deployed to the southern border in service of a national emergency from receiving active duty service credit toward the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This decision ensures that our men and women standing post and protecting our southern border will be eligible to receive GI bill benefits without further delay."

Lack of benefits for Guard, Reserves could become national security risk, leaders and advocates say

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

Do Guard and Reservists face barriers to benefits? This congressman wants to find out.