Trump extends National Guard orders after outcry over lost benefits

Elizabeth Howe
May 28, 2020 - 1:53 pm
Soldiers from the Vermont Army National Guard assist the Vermont Food Bank "Farmers to Families" Program

DVIDS

By Elizabeth Howe and Abbie Bennett

President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he will extend National Guard orders for those currently activated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before this extension, those orders ended one day too early for some Guardsmen to receive early retirement and education benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

First reported by Politico, National Guard COVID-19 deployments had a "hard stop" order of June 24 -- for many, one day short of the 90 days of activation needed to collect early retirement and education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. 

Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, president of the National Guard Association, said last week that the 24-day extension of the orders to June 24 was unusual. He said it could be a coincidence the extension leaves troops one day short of the needed threshold.

“But in the back of my mind, I know better,” he said. “They’re screwing the National Guard members out of the status they should have.”

Senate Veterans Affairs ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., responded similarly and "demanded" that Trump reverse the hard stop order. 

“Unfortunately, it seems as if this administration is intent on nickel and diming these men and women at the expense of Americans suffering with COVID-19," he said. "At every turn the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Administration are asking more and more of these Guardsmen and women, but utilizing them in a way that cheapens their service and fails to appropriately reflect the burden they are asked to bear."

Now, it seems Trump has complied with demands from Congress.

"The men and women of the National Guard have been doing a great job fighting the CoronaVirus," Trump said in a tweet. "This week, I will extend their Title 32 orders through mid-August, so they can continue to help States succeed in their response and recovery efforts."

Guard troops must serve for at least 20 years to qualify for a retirement pension when they turn 60. But for each 90 days they serve on federal orders, they can get early retirement credits -- moving their retirement up by three months. 

The Guard's response to the coronavirus pandemic is the largest for a domestic operation since Hurricane Katrina nearly 15 years ago when more than 51,000 deployed, according to the National Guard Association. 

“They’re working side-by-side with doctors, nurses and first responders,” Robinson said. “And we’re going to cut them off and send them home with no health care coverage while they transition back to their civilian life. Not to mention, some of their jobs may have evaporated since they were deployed.”

First service member dies from the coronavirus

As of Thursday, more than 46,000 National Guardsmen had been activated in the fight against COVID-19. Close to 1,300 National Guardsmen had tested positive for the virus although not all of these COVID-positive service members are among those on the frontlines of the pandemic. The first service member to die from COVID-19, activated Guardsman Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, died on March 30.

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

Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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