The National Guard was deployed under FEMA to protect citizens for 30 days, extended by a day to allow benefits to kick-in, then extended again as the crisis dragged on, and these soldiers are now finally being sent home.
In total, the Guardsmen served for 89 days, but critics of U.S. President Donald J. Trump are asking for that to be extended by one more day, to 90 days, to allow full benefits to accrue.
New York Congressman Max Rose, a current National Guard member, along with other elected liberals, including NY Senator Chuck Schumer, are holding up the 89-day deployment as a mean-spirited attempt to purposefully deny National Guard members early retirement and education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill.
Reviewing the actual details, of course, provides a more nuanced understanding.
The original deployment orders from Mar 22, 28, and 30, 2020, and April 2, 2020, each titled “Providing Federal Support for Governors’ Use of the National Guard to Respond to COVID-19,” were modified in a Memorandum to the Secretary of Defense, dated April 7th to be effective for orders of duty of a duration of 31 days or fewer. These orders of duty must be effective no later than two weeks from the date of this memorandum. This extended each deployment order by one day.
On April 6, just days after the original deployment order, President Trump signed an executive order extending those activation dates by one day. Reacting to concerns that National Guard troops fighting COVID-19 under Title 32 orders were being denied Tricare and increased housing benefits, which would have only kicked in after 30 days.
Authorizing National Guard units to be activated under Title 32 for increments of up to 31 days, rather than 30, allows them to receive Tricare medical coverage and increased Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments.
President Trump helped those troops to be able to reap those benefits by extending the original deployment order by one day for that to happen.
There was another extension to end on May 31, also short of any possibility of obtaining the 90-day benefits in the first place.
President Trump, then, under advice from FEMA officials, extended the orders based on FEMA based on those recommendations as needs were being met.
The White House’s approval of the National Guard deployment under FEMA to assist during the pandemic gave them federal pay and the potential accrual of retirement benefits, but kept them under the command of state governors through May 31.
The administration reportedly further extended the National Guard deployment to June 24.
Guard members must serve for 20 years to qualify for a pension at age 60. But for every 90 days serving during a federal emergency, Guard members can move up that retirement by three months. Ninety days of service also qualifies members for 40 percent off the tuition at a public college or university.
But as their term gets closer to the magic 90 days, the long knives came out for the president, with pressure coming from every National Guardsmen calling his elected officials to get that pushed over that extra day.
To be blunt, the value of those benefits could be great, but the cost would be, too.
To further complicate things, the National Guard is typically state funded. Most receive tuition reimbursement and assistance for accredited colleges, technical schools and universities. For instance, at Nebraska, National Guard students can get 75% tuition reimbursement while attending college.
A National Guard spokesperson said a decision to extend the deployments could still be made in the coming weeks.
“We’re not there yet on the determination,” NG spokesman Wayne Hall told Politico. “Nobody can say where we’ll need to be more than a month down the road.”
The cost of the deployment is as much as $9 million per month for every 1,000 troops, according to the National Council of State Legislatures — an expense that states would have to shoulder should Title 32 expire. In addition, state deployments do not count toward federal education and retirement benefits.
What caught everyone’s attention was that the White House issued an unusual 24-day extension that terminates the deployment mid-week.
With the deadline approaching, Colorado’s bi-partisan congressional delegation wrote to the president asking for an extension until the end of the year. Senators from New Hampshire, Connecticut, West Virginia and Illinois sought an extension through the Fall. And several officials, including Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, have written letters asking for an extension until at least June 30.
“It seemed kind of weird to me,” said retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, president of the National Guard Association, the advocacy group for Guard members. “It’s a Wednesday. And it also coincides with 89 days of deployment for any soldiers who went on federal status at the beginning. I was getting all kinds of calls about it and I said, ‘It’s probably just a coincidence.’ But in the back of my mind, I know better. They’re screwing the National Guard members out of the status they should have.”
The NG spokesman Hall said, according to Politico, that the 90 day minimum is cumulative, meaning members could qualify for both early retirement and GI Bill education benefits on their next federal deployment.
“If someone’s new in the Guard, they won’t be able to make that 90 days in one shot,” Hall acknowledged. “But if two months from now they’re called up for a hurricane or flood, they can make it then. The goal here is not to hurt Guardsmen.”
President Trump has always been supportive of our troops and veterans alike. He also has the business of a country to run efficiently and effectively. As mentioned, the date of extension is flexible and can be modified at any point based on the needs of the country in order to fight the Corona Virus and the pandemic effects that have manifested from it.
What’s sad is that this furor over the 89 days paints National Guardsman as only in it for the benefits, rather than the truth: we enlisted to serve our country.