For Guard and Reservists, Deployment Doesn’t Guarantee Benefits

Soldiers from the Wisconsin and Utah Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve sing the Army song after donning the historic "Old Abe" patch ceremony at 101st Division Headquarters, at Fort Campbell, Ky., June 16, 2015. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) became the first division headquarters to convert to a multi-component unit division headquarters. The purpose of multi-component unit division headquarters is to fully integrate Reserve and National Guard Soldiers into the modification table of organization and equipment.

By Debbie Gregory.

A growing number of military reservists are learning that benefits they thought they were earning may not be there for them after all.

Under legal authority 12304b, when the Pentagon determines that it is necessary to augment the active forces in support of a combatant command, it can call up reservists and National Guard members for active duty without any obligation to provide traditional benefits such as Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education assistance, early retirement and health insurance.

In addition to putting in at least 39 days a year of mandatory training time, members of the Guard and Reserves must be prepared to go out on deployment, if necessary, for up to one year. The government offers many of the same benefits to the reserve components that are available to members of the full-time military, one being the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

There is a minimum of active duty time needed to qualify for the G.I. Bill, which is one of the reasons reservists look for deployment opportunities.

Reservists and guardsmen who are subject to involuntary deployment should receive the same benefits as regular troops based on the amount of time they spend on active duty: Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education assistance, reduced age for retirement, vocational rehabilitation services, pre- and post-mobilization health care and access to VA loans, plus federally subsidized differential pay to make up for their lower salaries while away from their civilian jobs.

While section 12304b might keep deployment costs down in the short term, the strategy might backfire over time by making it tougher to recruit and retain people to serve in the Guard and Reserves.

In 2016, two bills were introduced in the Senate that would restore the lost benefits: the National Guard 12304b Benefits Parity Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the Veterans First Act, sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia. Both bills have stalled.

The Reserve Officers Association will push Congress to reform 12304b, but it’s not clear at this point whether funding will be available to cover benefit costs.

Do you think this is right, or even fair?

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