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National Guard group complains troops on coronavirus duty may be shortchanged on benefits

  • COURTESY KRISTOPHER RADDER / BRATTLEBORO REFORMER / JANUARY 21
                                U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spoke out against reports that the Trump administration would implement a “hard stop” at 89 days of duty on June 24 for over 40,000 National Guard troops.

    COURTESY KRISTOPHER RADDER / BRATTLEBORO REFORMER / JANUARY 21

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spoke out against reports that the Trump administration would implement a “hard stop” at 89 days of duty on June 24 for over 40,000 National Guard troops.

The National Guard Association is crying foul over the possibility that thousands of citizen soldiers across the country who went on active duty early in the COVID-19 response could be pulled after 89 days of federal service — one day short of the threshold for early retirement credit and some education benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard noted reports that the Trump administration would implement the “hard stop” at 89 days of duty on June 24 for over 40,000 National Guard troops.

“Citizen-soldiers in the National Guard across the country answered the call to serve during a time of crisis, standing up to support overwhelmed federal, state, and local governments on the front lines in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” the Hawaii Democrat said in a release.

Rather than making a decision about when to end the activation of National Guard troops based on public health needs, the Trump administration “has chosen the despicable path of intentionally cutting these service members’ orders at 89 days just to pinch a few pennies by depriving them of the benefits they’ve earned and are guaranteed to them by law,” Gabbard added.

A major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, Gabbard called it a “slap in the face to every service member and their families who sacrifice willingly” to serve the nation.

The cutoff date suspicion does not apply as much to the 1,200 Hawaii National Guard soldiers who are assisting with COVID-19 response here because they started federal service a bit later than states such as New York and Washington and therefore do not come as close to the 90-day threshold, officials said.

Some Hawaii Guard soldiers were mobilized on state active duty, which differs from federal duty, in late March. The majority of the 1,200 soldiers went on Title 32 federal duty, pay and benefits — while still reporting to Gov. David Ige — on April 3, and the remainder followed within several weeks.

Title 32 allows a governor to order Guard members to report for operational homeland defense duties with the approval of the president or secretary of defense, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

News organization Politico noted the White House issued a 24-day extension to June 24 for the federal service — terminating the deployment mid-week.

“It seemed kind of weird to me,” retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, president of the National Guard Association of the United States, told the publication. “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 kind 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.”

As of Monday, more than 46,000 Guard personnel were serving on coronavirus-related missions, the vast majority under federal Title 32 status, the association said.

“Guardsmen have accounted for more than 75% of the direct military response for the pandemic and have been involved in testing, food distribution, building temporary medical facilities and more,” the National Guard advocacy group said.

Lawmakers around the country have asked for an extension of National Guard services through as late as the end of the year. However, the National Conference of State Legislators said the cost for the National Guard active duty can run as much as $9 million per month per 1,000 troops mobilized.

Without federal Title 32 authority, many states will decline to extend Guard deployments under state active duty due to a lack of available funding, the Guard association said.

The Hawaii National Guard said its citizen soldiers have performed coronavirus-related missions including:

>> Provided security and traffic control assistance for food drive and distributions on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.

>> Supported the Department of Health with medical aid and medical swabbing tests on Oahu, Hawaii island and Maui.

>> Supported the Department of Transportation with security and temperature and symptoms screening of airport passengers. Over 9,000 screened as of May 6.

>> Provided logistical warehouse support involving 150,000 KN95 masks for Hawaii island.

>> Conducted bus stop disinfections on Maui.

>> Assisted Kauai police with beach patrols.

>> Constructed 15 micro shelters and platforms for Maui District Health.

>> Provided security for Department of Labor and Industrial Relations for unemployment offices in all counties.

>> Assisted county police departments with roving checkpoints and traffic control.

>> Transported beds and medical equipment on Hawaii island.

>> Provided logistical support at Hawaii Healthcare Emergency Management for inventory and distribution of the Strategic National Stockpile and personal protective equipment and supplies.

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