National Guard Deployments To End One Day Before Members Qualify for Education and Retirement Benefits
[guest post by Dana]
More than 40,000 National Guard members currently helping states test residents for the coronavirus and trace the spread of infections will face a “hard stop” on their deployments on June 24 — just one day shy of many members becoming eligible for key federal benefits, according to a senior FEMA official.
The official outlined the Trump administration’s plans on an interagency call on May 12, an audio version of which was obtained by POLITICO. The official also acknowledged during the call that the June 24 deadline means that thousands of members who first deployed in late March will find themselves with only 89 days of duty credit, one short of the 90-day threshold for qualifying for early retirement and education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill.
The looming loss of crucial frontline workers, along with questions about whether the administration is shortchanging first responders, would require a delicate messaging strategy, the official — representing FEMA’s New England region — told dozens of colleagues on the interagency call.
“We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” the official said.
The decision has compelled both sides of the aisle to seek an extension from the White House:
Governors and lawmakers in both parties have been pleading with the White House to extend the federal order for several more months or until the end of the year, warning in a letter to Trump that terminating federal deployments early in the summer just as states are reopening “could contribute to a possible second wave of infection.”
Here are the numbers:
More than 40,000 Guard members are currently serving under federal orders known as Title 32, which grants them federal pay and benefits but puts them under local command, in 44 states, three territories and the District of Columbia — the largest domestic deployment since Hurricane Katrina.
Tens of thousands of them have been working full-time since early March on a wide range of sensitive and dangerous tasks, such as decontaminating nursing homes and setting up field hospitals, along with performing tests for the virus. They’ve provided a crucial backup for understaffed and underfunded state public health agencies trying to contain the pandemic.
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.
It’s possible for National Guard members who have extra deployments within the same fiscal year to qualify for GI Bill benefits or early retirement.
So far, “more than 1,100 guardsmen had been diagnosed with coronavirus, many of whom were deployed for pandemic response missions.”
FEMA is the federal agency responsible for the final determination of how long National Guard members are activated.
I checked out FEMA’s Coronavirus Rumor Control page (yes, they have one), and found this:
On March 22, President Trump directed the Secretary of Defense to permit full federal reimbursement, by FEMA, for some states’ use of their National Guard forces. The President’s action provides Governors continued command of their National Guard forces, while being federally funded under Title 32. Each state’s National Guard is still under the authority of the Governor and is working in concert with the Department of Defense.
I perused President Trump’s Twitter feed, and given the incredible array of tweets covering any number of subjects, I was only able to find this mentioning the National Guard (it is in response to the recent flooding in Michigan):
My team is closely monitoring the flooding in Central Michigan – Stay SAFE and listen to local officials. Our brave First Responders are once again stepping up to serve their fellow citizens, THANK YOU!
We have sent our best Military & @FEMA Teams, already there. Governor must now “set you free” to help. Will be with you soon!
One National Guard member has publicly voiced her disapproval of the decision by the Trump administration:
This is no coincidence. Trump Administration's decision to cut off orders for @NationalGuard Soldiers & Airmen responding to the COVID-19 pandemic just one day before they qualify for Federal benefits is a slap in the face to them & their families. https://t.co/ciLux2QJDK
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) May 19, 2020
According to reports, the White House has declined to respond to any inquiries about the matter. But of course…