Update (May 28, 2020, 5 p.m.): The Trump administration announced it would extend the federal deployment of more than 40,000 National Guard troops across the country rather than cutting short their service one day before they stood to qualify for key retirement and education benefits. Read more here.
The more than 40,000 National Guard members sent in March to help states test residents for the coronavirus and track infection rates are getting cold thanks come June 24. That’s when President Donald Trump’s executive order authorizing their deployment expires—just one day before many would have become eligible for federal benefits.
In a memo late Friday,Trump extended the Title 32 Section 502(f) authorization for federal funds for Guardsmen, which had been set to expire at the end of this month. Without the extension, many states would have had to begin pulling Guardsmen this week to allow for a 14-day quarantine and out-processing requirements.
According to a senior FEMA official speaking on a May 12 interagency call, the deadline leaves thousands of members with 89 days of duty credit. They’d need 90 days under the Post-9/11 GI bill to qualify for early retirement and education benefits. Normally, Guard members must be enlisted for 20 years to qualify for a pension at age 60, but they can cut that requirement by 3 months for every 90 days served in a federal emergency, and qualify for reduced tuition at public universities.
While he welcomed the extension, retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, president of the National Guard Association of the United States, called it “curious” that the extension runs only 24 days and ends in the middle of the week. Lawmakers and governors had requested 30 days.
“Something very similar happened on those first orders,” Robinson said. “At that time, federal authorities were limiting the duration of the orders to 30 days when TRICARE medical coverage required orders for at least 31 days. Fortunately, that changed when people became aware of the impact it would have on soldiers and airmen who are doing so much for this country in its time of need.”
New York’s Rep. Max Rose, himself a captain in the National Guard, slammed the White House’s extension deadline as “unpatriotic” and “economically unsound” in a statement Tuesday.
“Intentionally ending orders one day short of a deadline for National Guard soldiers to receive benefits for their heroic sacrifices is the definition of heartless,” Rose said. “In peace time we should never balance our budget on the backs of our soldiers, so why anyone would think this is okay to do in the middle of a wartime effort is beyond human comprehension.”
The National Guard has authorized 39,891 troops, with an additional 891 troops in state active duty status as of Tuesday.