Same Job. Same Risks. Same Benefits.
Despite working the same job and encountering the same risks, National Guard servicemembers are not being paid at the same rate or receiving the same benefits — including healthcare, housing stipends, and GI Bill eligibility — as federally activated units.
All States have Mobilized Guard and Reserve Forces in Response to COVID-19
At the time of this writing, governors across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington D.C. have activated a portion of their Army and Air National Guard units in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite these servicemembers being called to duty, under current law many are not receiving the same benefits as their peers.
Members of the National Guard can be called to duty under a variety of different duty statuses.
Under State Active Duty orders, each state pays servicemembers and funds the operations they perform.
Although these servicemembers are paid, their pay and benefits — including healthcare, housing stipends, and GI bill eligibility — are often not at the same rate as units that are federally activated or servicemembers on active duty.
Once a National Guard unit is federally activated, a servicemember’s pay is on the same scale as active duty forces, but their benefits can still vary.
Duty Status — A Primer
The benefits Guard and Reservists receive are based on the “duty status” under which the servicemember is participating in their military service, such as full mobilization, presidential reserve call up or major disaster and emergency response.
For example, National Guard servicemembers on 502(f) orders only receive Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility if the activation is in support of the president’s declaration of a national emergency.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, all 50 states & U.S. Territories will have servicemembers in a 502(f) status to directly support the ongoing national public health crisis. These servicemembers will largely be doing the same work as they would on State Active Duty orders.
The Disparity: Explained
Since the War on Terror, the Reserve Components (the National Guard and Reserves) have become Operational Reserves, rather than being used as Strategic Reserves like they were during the Cold War.
Traditionally, Strategic Reserves are only activated in federal service in the event of national disasters and larger-than-expected national security contingencies while Operational Reserves participate in ongoing military missions.
This shift to an Operational Reserve has meant more training, more deployments, and more time doing an inherently dangerous job for National Guard and Reserve servicemembers. The risks associated with working around multi-ton, heavily armored vehicles or flying military aircraft can never be fully mitigated, but the training still needs to be accomplished.
The heightened reliance on Guard and Reserve components have led to these servicemembers doing the same training, working the same job, and participating in the same real-world missions — all while they receive fewer benefits than their active duty counterparts.
For example, on the southern border, two sets of servicemembers worked the same job — camera operator. Active duty servicemembers covered the day shift and National Guard servicemembers worked at night.
This specific situation at the border was rectified earlier this year after bipartisan pressure from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs — however, outside of this specific instance the disparity in benefit eligibility continues.
Why does this matter?
In early March, the California National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing flew COVID-19 test kits out to the Grand Princess cruise ship. The servicemembers working on this operation were in 502(f) duty status.
But this was before President Trump declared a national emergency.
Despite great personal risk to themselves, the servicemembers you see in the video transporting essential medical supplies to the Grand Princess cruise ship were not earning GI Bill eligibility even though they had been called to action by their governor and their orders were being funded by the federal government.
As COVID-19 makes its way across the country, the Committee will be paying close attention to the use of the National Guard and Reserve and the duty status under which servicemembers are being mobilized.
A Solution — GI Bill Parity
Last October, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Chairman Mike Levin held a hearing on Guard and Reserve issues and examined the disparities in benefits and pay that arise as a result of different duty statuses.
Following the hearing, Rep. Mike Levin(CA-49) introduced legislation — the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act — to ensure all who serve our country in uniform receive the same GI Bill benefits. The bill was co-introduced with Reps. Steven Palazzo (MS-04) and Tim Ryan (OH-13), co-chairs of the House National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, with Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-AZ) introducing a companion piece in the Senate. Rep. Levin’s bill had a legislative hearing on March 10th, 2020 — and is another crucial step in the right direction to make sure these servicemembers have much-deserved GI Bill parity.
National Guard and Reserve servicemembers are trained to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice to defend the United States alongside their active duty counterparts, often performing equally demanding tasks and risks.
Servicemembers in the National Guard and Reserve shouldn’t face a disparity in the benefits they earn because of cumbersome and bureaucratic legalese.
The solution is simple.
Same job? Same risks? Same benefits!