Equal Benefits Goal of House, Senate Bills

Washington Report

(February 20, 2018) Bipartisan legislation introduced last week in the Senate and the House would provide National Guard and Reserve members who deploy on certain preplanned overseas missions with benefits equal to those received by active-component troops on the same missions.

The National Guard and Reserves Benefit Parity Act, which has the support of NGAUS, addresses early retirement eligibility, high-deployment allowance, and pay for mobilized federal civilian employees.

The Senate version of the bill, S. 2416, was introduced Feb. 13 by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. The House legislation, H.R. 5038, was introduced Thursday by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.

The inconsistencies began with the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which established a mobilization authority known as 12304b allowing the Defense Department to deploy Guardsmen and Reservists for preplanned missions without providing the same benefits received by the active component.

Speaking at the annual NGAUS Legislative Workshop last week, Coons said that certain benefits, such as access to premobilization and transitional health care, eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and access to rehabilitation for veterans with service-connected disabilities, have been addressed, but issues persist.

“Although legislation last year fixed some of these discrepancies, a gap still remains between the benefits provided to the Guard and active duty,” Coons told state legislative liaison officers and association executive directors at the National Guard Memorial, the NGAUS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Palazzo, a current Mississippi Guardsman, and Walz, a retired citizen-soldier, were instrumental in the success last year and are continuing their long focus on the issue with their bill. In a statement, Palazzo said, “Addressing this issue once and for all will guarantee our troops are always ready. While we have already been successful in passing beneficial legislation, we must complete the job to secure equal benefits for these men and women.”

The Defense Department is continuing to increase its utilization of this authority. The Air Guard projects that almost 7,000 personnel will mobilize, while nearly 6,000 Army Guardsmen will mobilize under 12304b over the next two years.

“NGAUS has made benefit parity between the Guard and the active component our top priority,” said retired Brig. Gen. Roy Robinson, the NGAUS president. “We’re thrilled that Congress is continuing to highlight this issue. It’s relatively inexpensive and would basically resolve all of the benefits inequity issues under these orders going back to 2012.”

The National Guard and Reserves Benefit Parity Act would fix the three remaining issues by:

  • Reducing by three months the age at which a Guardsman or Reservist is eligible to receive military retirement pay for every 90 days mobilized under 12304b authority within a single fiscal year;
  • Providing officers and enlisted Guardsmen and Reservists with a monthly allowance for each month during which they are deployed, if they meet criteria already defined under other mobilization authorities; and
  • Protecting federal civilian employees who are members of the Reserve or National Guard from a reduction in pay when activated by providing a “reservist differential” payment, which already exists under other mobilization authorities.