By Debbie Gregory.
Some 300 Marines reservists returned home from a 7-month long deployment in Central America without something that most were counting on; due to a relatively new and obscure deployment code, the reservists did not accumulate seven months of GI Bill benefits.
By law, reservists involuntarily mobilized under Title 10, section 12304b, do not receive credit for the GI Bill while they are activated.
Nearly a million reservists have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data from the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center.
Marine Sgt. William Hubbard, a reservist who also happens to be the vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America, said fellow Marines are stunned by this news as word has spread through the ranks.
“Reservists serve their country like any other component, and they have to balance civilian employment, education and the military,” Hubbard said. “And to say they don’t rate the full benefit? It doesn’t add up.”
The exception has fueled the belief that reservists are not afforded the same benefits as active duty troops.
The issue of the 12304b authority starts with the Pentagon. As combat deployments slowed, the Pentagon looked to create mobilization authorities that would fill operational needs worldwide, but also trim the budget.
The 12304b authorization was included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and stripped most mobilization and deployment benefits, including the accumulation of GI Bill benefits.
The post-9/11 GI Bill benefit pays part or all tuition and a housing stipend based on a sliding scale of active duty time, and was designed as a recruitment and retention tool.
Hubbard sees two possible solutions to the issue: Although highly unlikely, President Barack Obama could direct the Department of Veterans Affairs through an executive order to waive the exemption. The other option would be for the authorization to be modified through a law passed by Congress.
The National Guard 12304b Benefits Parity Act bill would grant GI Bill benefits to reservists along with health care and retirement benefits, but it has not moved from the Senate’s Armed Services Committee since its introduction.
“The men and women who serve our country lay everything on the line to protect us, and in return, they deserve access to the support and benefits that they’ve rightfully earned,” said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed the legislation.
A joint letter from Franken and Cornyn sent to Defense Secretary Ash Carter last April highlighted the issue.
“Upon their return from duty, they applied for educational benefits only to learn that the Department had directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue a denial for active service under Section 12304b,” the letter stated.