Military Benefits Guide: National Guard & Reserve

National Guard & Reserve Comprehensive Military Benefits Guide

Some benefits require a minimum time in uniform to access, others may take effect immediately. The benefits for members of the Guard and Reserve differ from active duty benefits for a number of reasons, including the fact that these jobs are essentially part-time during much of the year unless there is a deployment, field training, unit activation, etc.

  • Pay and Allowances
  • Education benefits
  • VA Home loans
  • TRICARE
  • Job Certification
  • Retirement

National Guard and Reserve Component Pay and Allowances

There are special pay and allowance options that may be offered to you depending on your rank, your career field, and other variables. When you join the National Guard or the Reserve, you make a part-time commitment to military service. That means your time commitment isn’t the same as an active duty soldier, sailor, airman, Guardian, Marine, or Coast Guard member.

That also means your pay is part-time, too. Naturally when a member of the Guard or Reserve is deployed, activated, or otherwise called to active service, the pay changes to active duty, too. But while you serve under “normal conditions” during peacetime, your service is limited to weekend drills, active duty for training, and other activities as required.

If you need to know your state’s National Guard pay rates, you can check the official site of your state’s National Guard, or you can check by branch of service. For example, the Air National Guard official site features a pay calculator to help you estimate your National Guard earnings in advance. You will need to scroll down for the Pay Calculator.

Read more: Military Pay Charts

Guard/Reserve Education Benefits

The Montgomery GI Bill is an option that was offered at one time to all new recruits. Today that program has been replaced by the Post 9/11 GI Bill but some may still qualify to use the MGIB-SR:

You may qualify for the MGIB-SR if you’re a member of one of the following Reserve Components:

  • Army Reserve
  • Navy Reserve
  • Air Force Reserve
  • Marine Corps Reserve
  • Coast Guard Reserve
  • Army National Guard
  • Air National Guard

 

>> Search for GI Bill-approved schools for National Guard and Reserve members with CollegeRecon!

 

The following must all be true for you to qualify:

  • You have a 6-year service obligation in the Selected Service OR;
  • You are an officer in the Selected Reserve serving 6 years (that is in addition to your initial service obligation) AND;
  • You meet what the VA calls “ other requirements” which may include finishing initial active duty for training (IADT), and you are in good standing in a Selected Reserve Unit.
  • Your obligation must have started after June 30, 1985, or for some types of training after September 30, 1990.

If you qualify for the GI Bill under any of these circumstances, you’ll want to learn more about your options to use these benefits–you can make an appointment with a college admissions counselor or contact the VA directly to learn more about what is possible.

In addition to the GI Bill, you may also qualify for Military Tuition Assistance from the Guard/Reserve, though not all branches of service offer the benefit to reserve component members. Where offered, you may find that 100% of your tuition expenses are covered for classwork totaling $250 or less per semester hour or the equivalent.

Read More: GI Bill Facts and Fiction

 

>> Search scholarships for National Guard and Reserve members with the CollegeRecon Scholarship Finder!

 

VA Home Loan Benefits for the National Guard and Reserve

VA home loans are offered to those who serve enough qualifying time in the Guard or Reserve (see below). There are major advantages to using a VA home loan as a Guard member or Reservist. One of these advantages is the no-money-down mortgage option. Another is the fact that you cannot be penalized for early payoff of the mortgage (including refinancing) and you cannot be required to purchase a home that is appraised lower than the asking price even if you have paid earnest money.

Who qualifies for a VA mortgage among members of the Reserve Components? Those who:

  • Served for 90 days or more on active duty during a wartime period, OR
  • Were discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability, OR
  • Have six years of service in the Selected Reserve or National Guard, AND were honorably discharged, placed on the Standby list or transferred to Standby Reserve or Ready Reserve, or who continue in the Selected Reserve.

Read More:  Best Practices for the VA Loan Process

 

>> Get your questions answered with a free VA Loan consultation!

 

TRICARE for National Guard & Reserve

Members of the Guard and Reserve may be eligible for TRICARE. You are required to create or maintain an account on the Defense Manpower Data Center or MilConnect to verify eligibility for TRICARE Guard/Reserve plans such as Line of Duty Care, Active and Inactive care, and options for those who are retiring.

Read More: TRICARE for Guard and Reserve Members

Furthermore, members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) may have the option to purchase dental coverage but typically do not qualify for other TRICARE benefits unless on active duty orders OR recently deactivated.

Read More: TRICARE: A Comprehensive Guide

Job Certification for the National Guard & Reserve

Depending on the branch of military service, the nature of your career field, and whether you serve in the National Guard or the Reserve, you may be offered job certification that is related to your military job. For example, the Army National Guard offers certification in areas that include:

  • Certified Defense Financial Manager (CDFM)
  • Six Sigma Black Belt (SSBB)
  • CompTIA Security+
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)
  • EMT/Paramedic
  • Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)

The nature of military service in the National Guard means that the state where you serve plays an important part in the nature of your benefits in this area. Not all states offer the same funding or certification options.

The situation is different for Reservists as these troops operate on the federal level rather than the state level. That means benefits for Reservists are more standardized. They also depend on the branch of service you are in; Air Force Reserve job training is more focused on mission-essential needs but you may find that the AF Reserve offers help with student loans and other civilian-based opportunities.

National Guard and Reserve Retirement Benefits

Those who serve enough “creditable years” of military service in the Guard or Reserve may become eligible to apply for a military pension and become military retirees.

Unlike those who serve on Active Duty for 20 years and get to start enjoying retirement pay immediately once they have “dropped papers”, members of the Guard and Reserve must wait until they reach a certain age to start receiving military retirement pay.

Read More: Retirement Pay For Guard And Reserve Members

Military retirement for National Guard and Reserve members has changed thanks to laws passed in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The Act in part reduced the age those in the Ready Reserve can start receiving retirement pay.

Normally the retirement age is 60, but now, your retirement age is lowered by three months for every 90 days of active duty after 28 January 2008. Further changes in 2015 allow that 90-day period of active duty to stretch over two successive fiscal years.

Drawing retirement pay is NOT automatic. You must apply for it and be approved for it.

 

 

Retirement Pay for Guard and Reserve Members

If you are in the National Guard or the Reserve, you earn points toward retirement while serving part-time and when called to active service.

You qualify for military retirement as a member of a Reserve Component once you have reached 20 creditable years of military service. What does it take to make it to retirement as a Reservist or National Guard member? Putting in enough creditable time, which is associated with certain types of duty (not all) which may earn points toward retirement.

There are circumstances where you may be placed on a Guard or Reserve retired list due to an injury or disability even if you have not reached 20 creditable years, but these situations are handled on a case-by-case basis and you will need to discuss your circumstances with your command support staff, First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, Detailer, etc.

In cases where you must appeal a decision in this area, you may need to submit supporting documentation to your command, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other authorities.

Who Is Eligible For Guard/ Reserve Retirement?

In order to be approved for retirement pay in the Guard or Reserve, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be age 60 or older.
  • You do not receive military retired pay through any other means.
  • You have completed at least 20 years of qualifying military service.

If you earned your 20th qualifying year before April 26, 2005, federal law mandates that you must serve the last six years of qualifying service as a member of a Reserve component. There is no minimum service requirement established for those who earned their points after April 26, 2005.

What Counts As Qualifying Military Service

The only type of service that counts toward Guard and Reserve retirement is known as “uniformed service”, which means you must be an officer or enlisted member of a Reserve Component like the Air Force Reserve, state National Guard, Army Reserve, etc. Working in any civilian capacity does not count toward military retirement.

It’s not just the nature of your military commitment, you must also earn enough points toward retirement in a given year to have that year count as a  “creditable retirement year” which is defined in a very specific way. How do you earn points? In a variety of ways including:

  • Active duty and active duty for training is worth one point per day.
  • Being on active status of a reserve component is worth 15 points for each year.
  • Authorized drills earn one point per drill.
  • Funeral Honor Duty earns one point per incident of service.

Rack up enough points and you earn a creditable year toward your military retirement as a member of the Guard or Reserve.

What is a Creditable Year?

A creditable year is defined as one where you earn 50 retirement points or more. How are these points awarded? Retirement points that are awarded for things other than active duty service count, but they are capped:

  • 60 points maximum for qualifying service before 23 September 1996,
  • 75 points maximum between 23 September 1996 and 30 October 2000,
  • 90 points maximum between 30 October 2000 and 29 January 2008,
  • 130 points maximum for 29 January 2008 and beyond.

Your points and the rules for them may have some variation depending on whether you serve in the Guard or Reserve, and may also depend on which branch of military service you do your Reserve or Guard duty in.

What Happens When You Earn Enough Points To Retire?

Once you have completed 20 creditable years of military service, you are provided written notice in the form of a document called a Notice Of Eligibility or NOE.

Some states may call this something else when notifying members of the National Guard, but the bottom line is that you are notified that you have become eligible to claim your military retirement. When you get this notification you cannot be denied retirement pay when you hit age 60 even if there was an error (in your favor) in the recordkeeping. There is one exception in cases where there has been fraud committed in this area by the service member.

The NOE is often referred to in certain circles as a 20-year letter, and from time to time some who have earned the letter do not receive it.

If this applies to you and you have a full 20 years of qualifying military service, you must write to your branch of the service to formally request the letter. You can get help from your command support staff to direct the message. Help may also be available from your unit orderly room, First Sergeant, Detailer, or Sergeant Major.

When Do I Start Getting Guard/Reserve Retirement Pay?

As mentioned above, Guard and Reserve pay does not start until you reach the eligible age and you MUST apply for retirement pay. You will likely be approved for your first National Guard retirement check Or Reserve retirement pay 30 days after your 60th birthday. If you had a delay in applying and didn’t “drop papers” until after you turned 60, your pay is awarded retroactively to the date of your 60th birthday.

You do NOT have unlimited time to claim your retirement. There is a six-year window of opportunity to apply, and a retirement claim filed after that six years means you lose a day’s pay for each day of delay.

A Word About “Gray Area” Retirees

A gray area retiree is someone who has served enough creditable time in the Guard or Reserve but is not old enough to draw retirement pay yet. Those who reach this gray area may stop drilling, join the Retired Reserve and wait out the interval between retiring and drawing retired pay. If this applies to you, one of the most important things to do after hitting the gray area is to maintain current contact information in DEERS and with your command support staff. If the military cannot locate you to send you your Notice of Eligibility, you may experience a delay in getting your benefits.

Things To Know About Retiring From The Guard Or Reserve

Not all military retirements are the same. In addition to serving 20 years of creditable service, some Reserve Component members may qualify for military retirement due to a disability. If you retire with a VA disability rating of 30 or higher, you qualify for disability retirement pay. To qualify for this, you must serve a minimum of eight years and your injury or disability must be service-connected. There are two different types of disability retirement that may apply in such cases:

Permanent disability retirement is typically offered when you retire with a 30% disability rating or better. VA ratings are determined by a “schedule” of disability ratings and you may find that certain conditions are capped no matter what degree of severity–for example, tinnitus is capped at 10%. No VA disability rating will exceed 100%.

Temporary disability retirement is offered in cases where a military member has a medical issue that prevents them from performing duty. Those who are placed on the temporary list are reevaluated every 18 months, but within five years a determination must be made to go on the permanent disability retirement list or come off the disability retirement list altogether.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has the final say in all cases, but that does not mean you cannot appeal a decision made about permanent or temporary disability retirement. You also have recourse to appeal a VA disability rating decision. If you need to appeal such a decision, be sure to gather any additional supporting evidence or documentation you might need to convince the VA to re-evaluate your claim.

Not all appeals are successful, but failing to appeal a VA decision could mean being stuck with the results of their original evaluation for the duration of your retirement unless circumstances change to allow you to apply for a new evaluation.

 

TRICARE for National Guard and Reserve Members

TRICARE Benefits for Reserve and National Guard Members

Members of the National Guard, Reservists, and their families may be eligible for coverage under TRICARE. Eligibility depends on the service member’s military status, which may change many times over a career in the Guard or Reserve. Your care options may vary depending on whether your current status is:

  • Inactive
  • Activated
  • Deactivated
  • Retired

You and your family can verify basic eligibility for TRICARE via the Defense Manpower Data Center or by logging into Beneficiary Web Enrollment (BWE) on the MilConnect official site. Family members are eligible if they are listed in DEERS and the service member qualifies for TRICARE.

To log in to these portals to check TRICARE eligibility, you need one of the following:

  • Common Access Card (CAC),
  • DFAS (MyPay) Account, or
  • DoD Self-Service Logon (DS Logon) Premium (Level 2) account

What TRICARE Benefits Are Provided for Reserve and National Guard Members?

The TRICARE benefits and health plan options below depending on the service member’s status.

  • Line of Duty Care
  • TRICARE for Inactive Guard/Reserve (on duty 30 days or less)
  • TRICARE When Activated (on duty for more than 30 days)
  • TRICARE When Deactivated
  • TRICARE When Retired

TRICARE Line Of Duty Care

Line Of Duty care applies to members of the Guard and Reserve who, “…incur or aggravate an injury, illness, or disease while in the line of duty” which can include drill weekend, ADT, IDT, or other training as specified on orders. Coverage is provided for travel to and from official duty as well.

You will not show up in DEERS as being eligible for TRICARE under these circumstances, However, Line Of Duty coverage is meant to anticipate circumstances that may result in an emergency room visit during military training in a Guard/Reserve capacity. Line Of Duty care is completely separate from other TRICARE coverage such as TRICARE Reserve Select, pre-activation benefits you may be entitled to when called to federal service, and benefits provided under military transition assistance programs.

Due to the nature of this coverage, TRICARE Line of Duty coverage is NOT considered minimum essential coverage for the purposes of meeting the requirements of laws like the Affordable Care Act.

TRICARE for Inactive Guard/Reserve on Duty for 30 Days or Less

TRICARE Reserve Select is offered to those who are not on active duty orders, not covered under other Transition Assistance programs such as TAMP, and to those who are not eligible for the Federal Employee Health Benefits program. TRICARE Reserve Select is a premium-based health insurance plan offered to qualifying members of the Guard/Reserve and their families worldwide.

The TRICARE official site notes that those in the Individual Ready Reserve do not qualify for this healthcare option.

If you have TRICARE Reserve Select, you may get care from an authorized provider in your network or out-of-network.

TRICARE for Activated Guard and Reserve Members

Those who are activated and placed on active duty status are enrolled in one of the following plans depending on the location of duty; stateside, overseas, stateside remote duty, or overseas remote duty. Plans include:

  • TRICARE Prime
  • TRICARE Prime Remote
  • TRICARE Prime Overseas
  • TRICARE Prime Remote Overseas

You will be covered by one of these plans as applicable but you are required to formally enroll, typically when you arrive at the duty station. Family members may be added to your plan at enrollment time. TRICARE is the only health benefit option you have when activated for federal active duty service. TRICARE coverage allows you to claim zero out-of-pocket expenses when claiming “covered services” and when you do have to pay, TRICARE reimburses you 100%.

TRICARE Coverage When You Are Deactivated

There are two options for coverage when you are deactivated. One is TRICARE Reserve Select (see above) which is offered first. This is for those who are not on active duty orders, not covered under other options such as TAMP, and to those who are not eligible for the Federal Employee Health Benefits program.

When you are deactivated, you have another option to claim benefits under a program called  TAMP; the Transitional Assistance Management Program. This adds 180 days of health care benefits which begin after regular TRICARE benefits end. There are no premiums to be paid for under TAMP.

Who is eligible for TAMP?

Sponsors and eligible family members who meet one of the following conditions:

    • You are involuntarily separating from active duty under honorable conditions
    • You received a voluntary separation incentive (VSI)
    • You received voluntary separation pay (VSP) and can’t receive retired or retainer pay upon separation.
    • You are a Guard or Reserve member separating from a period of more than 30 consecutive days of active duty for a pre planned mission, or working to support a contingency mission or COVID-19 response
    • Separating following involuntary retention (AKA “stop loss”) in support of a contingency operation
    • Separating after agreeing to remain on active duty for less than one year in support of a contingency operation
    • Receiving a sole survivorship discharge
    • Separating from regular active duty service and agreeing to become a member of the Selected Reserve of a Reserve Component.

You can view your eligibility for TAMP in DEERS or via MilConnect.

TAMP Coverage Periods

During TAMP coverage periods, you and your family members may qualify to enroll for or use one of the following:

    • Military care facilities
    • TRICARE Prime
    • TRICARE Select
    • US Family Health Plan
    • TRICARE Prime Overseas
    • TRICARE Select Overseas

As mentioned earlier in this article, TRICARE coverage options like Prime and Select are based on duty location.

TRICARE When Retired

If you retire from military service, having served the full duration of a military career 20 creditable years or more in the Guard or Reserve, you may qualify for TRICARE benefits as a military retiree. It’s important to note that you must draw a military pension or be eligible to draw one to qualify. Being retired in a non-military sense has no bearing on this coverage or its availability.

Retired Reserve members and their families have TRICARE options which are based on the age of the military member. For those under 60 years old, you may qualify to buy into TRICARE Retired Reserve; turning down this option means you will not qualify for other TRICARE retiree coverage until you turn 60.

For those who opt-in to TRICARE Retired Reserve who have children who are about to age out of TRICARE, an option called TRICARE Young Adult may help.

For those ages 60 or older,  the TRICARE official site says, “you and your family become eligible for the same TRICARE health benefits as all other retired service members” and such options depend on where you live. Stateside the following options apply:

  • TRICARE Prime
  • TRICARE Select
  • TRICARE For Life (with Medicare Part A & Part B)
  • US Family Health Plan

Outside the United States, the following options may be offered to you:

  • TRICARE Select Overseas
  • TRICARE For Life (with Medicare Part A & Part B)

Things to Know About TRICARE Options for Family Members of National Guard or Reserve Members

Your TRICARE coverage is provided when the service member is eligible for the coverage. These scenarios can include circumstances where one of the following applies:

  • On military duty for less than 30 days
  • Activated
  • Called to active duty service for more than 30 consecutive days
  • Deactivated-after leaving active duty for more than 30 consecutive days

Did you know you can purchase TRICARE Dental Program coverage? This is an option completely separate from the other TRICARE coverages, and you must enroll for dental coverage. As mentioned above, all dependents to be covered under TRICARE must be registered in DEERS.

Those who are eligible for TRICARE and Medicare Part A should know that you are typically required to carry Medicare Part B in order to continue using TRICARE.

 

 

“Our Military Kids” Provides Grants to Military Children

The “Our Military Kids” Program Offers $300 Grants

We all know that kids and their activities can cost money. If you have multiple children, that can add up. If you are an active duty family you have access to what they offer on your military installation, but if you are a National Guard, Reservist, or veteran family it can be more complicated to find affordable activities for your children.

Our Military Kids is a non-profit that wanted to find a meaningful way to give back to the National Guard and Reserve troops who were deployed. Starting as a Virginia National Guard pilot program, they have provided $77,000 in grants since 2004. These grants can be used for sports, fine arts, camps, and tutoring programs.

Who qualifies for the “Our Military Kids” grants?

There are two groups who qualify for these grants, children of deployed National Guard and Reservist service members, including Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and Coast Guard Reserve, and children of severely injured veterans from any service branch.

National Guard and Reservists don’t qualify if they have been activated or gone away to training. To qualify as a severely injured veteran, the service member must have sustained combat-related injuries while deployed in support of any post-9/11 overseas contingency operation, must be classified as severely injured, which is 30% or more, and be designated by the Department of Veteran Affairs in one of six categories. They are burns, amputation, mental health, spinal cord injury, Traumatic brain injury, or PTSD.

Each military child will need to apply and can receive up to $300 per grant. Those in the Deployed or Stateside Activated NGR Program can receive one grant per deployment with 80-179 day orders, or two if the orders are over 180 days. For those within the Severely Injured Program, children can receive a grant every six months for a max of four grants as well as a 5th FLEX grant at any time during the recovery period.

What can and can’t they be used for?

These grants can be used for youth sports, fine arts, STEM programs, and tutoring. They can’t be used for daycare fees, school tuition, or mission trips.

What do you need to show to be eligible?

In order to prove you are eligible for the Deployed or Stateside Activated NGR Program, you will need to show a copy of deployment orders, or CED in the Air National Guard, showing OCONUS duty. You will also need to show one of three forms of identification for the child, and documentation of the activities showing the cost. This could be a flyer, brochure, website, screenshot, or a letter from the organization that clearly states the cost. The letters must be typed.

In order to prove you are eligible for the Severely Injured Program, the service member or veteran must also be actively seeking treatment for his or her service injuries and must have a case manager or medical practitioner who is able to certify their information in writing. Our Military Kids has a template you can use on their website.

In addition, you will need to show the breakdown of your disability percentage, your DD214, and documents to verify your child. You will also need documentation about the activity or program your child is going to use the grant for. If you are still active duty you will need to show a letter from your case manager as well as a recent copy of your military orders moving you into a WTU or medical hold.

How do you get the “Our Military Kids” grants?

You can get a printable application on their website and submit it.

Once a grant has been approved, the packet will be sent to the child’s home address. In the packet, you can find a special recognition for the child as well as a grant check which is payable to the organization that was submitted.

It’s important to note that grant approvals are always subject to the availability of funds.

 

Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program: A DoD Resource for Guard and Reserve Families

What is the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP)?

YYRP is a DoD program under the Defense Personnel and Family Support Center, created in 2008 to help promote the well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families, and their communities.

What Does the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program Do?

This program connects Guard and Reserve memebers and their families with resources through the entire deployment cycle. From the pre-deployment stage, the actual time deployed, and the reintegration period after deployment is over. Each reserve component was directed to implement the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program for their service members and families. 

What Does the YRRP Offer?

The YRRP program offers Yellow Ribbon events where service members and their families can connect with local resources during all phases of deployment. At these events, you can find resources and information on health care, education and training opportunities, financial topics, legal benefits, and more. These events are mostly in-person but they also offer online events.

It is also important to note that some Yellow Ribbon events may be mandatory for the service member. Reimbursement of travel expenses may be permitted if the event is more than 50 miles from where the service member and family lives. The service member will need to check with their command about what they are required to do.

YRRP Online Classes

The DoD works with partners including the Small Business Administration, Department of Labor, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide support for this program. And, in addition to the Yellow Ribbon events, the website offers many online classes to attend. Some examples include:

  • “Acing the Interview”
  • “Are You Ready? Being Prepared for Deployment”
  • “ Financial Literacy: Investing For Beginners”

In addition, you can also find articles on employment, finances, PTSD and TBI, community outreach, and more.

Make Sure to Check Out the Reintegration Program

If you are a National Guard or Reserve family, you can learn more about the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program at the official site. The resources can help you and your family, no matter where you are in the deployment cycle. 

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National Guard and Reservist Job Security in State Governments

Job Security for Those Serving in National Guard and Reserve

Gaps in USERRA Protection

Job security is closely tied to overall well-being. When a job is threatened or lost due to unclear or non-existing regulations, systems that protect service members need to be improved.

Populations within the military perpetually fall in “gray areas.” Unclear regulations should not exist in the realm of job security for National Guard members and Reservists.

USERRA

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) protects the employment rights of individuals who leave a position of employment to fulfill military service commitments. USERRA Applies to service members including:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Marine Corps
  • Air Force
  • Coast Guard
  • Public Health Service commissioned corps
  • Reserve components of the above services

Generally, an employer must re-employ service members returning from military service commitments such as active duty service, training, funeral honors duty, and fitness examinations.

USERRA and equal employment opportunity laws prohibit discrimination in employment decisions based on veteran status.

Gray Area

USERRA applies to virtually all U.S. employers – including states (and their political subdivisions), the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and United States territories. USERRA supersedes state laws unless the state laws are more generous.

In a McClatchy Washington Bureau article on Task & Purpose, however, Tara Copp explains that the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Texas attorney general’s office why USERRA protections should not extend to states. This dialogue was triggered by the case Le Roy Torres v. The Texas Department of Public Safety.

One of hundreds of thousands of Americans with National Guard or reservist experience working in a state or local government job, Le Roy Torres was forced to resign in 2012. After a 12-month deployment in Iraq, where the former Texas state trooper was exposed to toxic ash from an open-air pit, he was not able to perform former duties. Torres was also not offered an alternative job to accommodate his condition, according to the Copp article.

RELATED: VA Evaluates Environmental Hazards and Cancer Risk

State Law and USERRA

The Torres case highlights a situation where discrepancies between state and federal regulations can have a negative impact.

The Reserve Organization of America explains that USERRA supersedes any state laws unless the state laws provide more generous benefits than USERRA. This website provides an index of state laws – some of which offer more generous benefits than USERRA and some that offer significantly less.

It has also been noted that the accuracy with which courts have interpreted USERRA is debatable.

Improving Laws Protecting Jobs

USERRA has a long history, rooted in the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. This legislation provided the first reemployment rights for service members and has evolved continuously over the last 80 years.

Since 1994, however, USERRA has not undergone major changes. As long as unclear regulations continue to exist, improving protections for National Guard members and reservists needs to continue.

Will the U.S. Supreme Court hear the Torres case? If so, what will the decision mean for the rights of National Guard members and reservists in state government jobs?

 

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National Guard Benefits Access Enabled With Extended Orders

Oh, What a Difference a Day Makes

You may have noticed that there’s a lot going on these days. Nations across the world are fighting against a pandemic, the likes of which we’ve not seen in a generation. We have doctors and nurses on the front lines, treating those who have contracted COVID-19. We have researchers and scientists working around the clock to find something that can help in this fight. To top it all off, the governors of all 50 states have activated components of their Army and Air National Guard.

By some accounts, over 44,000 Soldiers have been activated and given missions that directly support our nation’s fight against this pandemic. They support community testing sites, provide logistical support, transport supplies, fill empty call center positions, distribute food and other supplies, build field hospitals, all while cleaning and disinfecting everything in sight. These are some of America’s finest, serving at a time when no one else can.

Serving Two Masters

The National Guard falls into a unique position that may be unfamiliar to those of us who served on active duty only. Each state has a Guard that is considered a state organization and is commanded by each state’s governor. Under normal circumstances, a Guard unit’s activation is paid for by that state. 

However, Guard units can be federally activated under a Title 10 designation and become “active duty”, meaning they are full-time Soldiers for the duration of their mission. When this happens, the funding for these units falls primarily on the federal government, which makes sense; but they can be utilized outside of their state boundaries.

Under a Title 32 activation, the Guard units are primarily active duty, but within their state boundaries. Under Title 32, the governor has the ability to place a Soldier into full-time duty, with the state maintaining operational control. This status is also funded by federal dollars. Under this designation, a governor may also use the Guard in a law enforcement capacity.

Earned Benefits

Currently, when National Guard Soldiers are activated for more than 30 days, they have access to enhanced benefits, like access to the Tricare medical system while they are on duty. The benefit also extends to their dependents.

If Guard units are sent on overseas assignments, they receive the same medical care for six months following their mission. This ensures that any health issues related to the deployment are taken care of. The guidelines for this are espoused in the Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP).

However, the six months of transitional health benefits do not apply if their deployment is domestic. The Guard units that have been activated in response to this pandemic are “deployed” domestically, essentially on the front lines of this crisis.

In addition to medical care, these National Guard soldiers are eligible for a wide range of benefits that affect their retirement and GI Bill benefits. In order to qualify for these awesome benefits, the soldiers need to serve under their Title 32 orders for at least 90 days. 

Therein lies the problem. The Guard’s orders were extended from May 31st to June 24th, which gives them only 89 days of active service. That’s one day short of the minimum time needed to receive these enhanced benefits, and it’s hard to see that as coincidental.

A Critical Response

For the past few weeks, legislative officials from most states have contacted congressional leaders to voice their concerns surrounding what seems to be a strategically selected date for deactivation of the National Guard. The White House has drawn criticism from some officials who claim that the early termination date is a means to save money. One of these is Congressman Max Rose, representing New York’s 11th District and a Captain in the National Guard. In mid-April, Rose himself returned from a two week deployment with his National Guard unit supporting the coronavirus response on Staten Island. 

On May 22nd, US House Representatives Steven Palazzo (R-MS) and Joe Cunningham (D-SC) introduced the Support Our National Guard Act, which would give transitional health care benefits to service members who were activated in response to COVID-19 under Title 32 Authority. Representative Palazzo is a co-chair of the House National Guard and Reserve Caucus and is a strong supporter of their mission.

Several Senators, including Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), have sent letters to the White House asking for a swift resolution to this problem. They are two among numerous Senate members who are serving or have previously served in the National Guard.

Bada-Bing, Bada-Boom

On May 28th, President Trump announced in a tweet that he was extending the Title 32 orders of the National Guard through “mid-August” so they can continue in their mission of supporting the response of their states to COVID-19:

This is great news for the Soldiers of the National Guard who have been away from their families during these unprecedented times. They deserve every benefit we can give to them, especially medical, retirement, and education benefits. 

(Imagery by Diego Gonzalez on Unsplash)

 

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Covid-19 Stop Movement Order for National Guard and Reservists

What is the COVID-19 Stop Movement Order?

The original Stop Movement Order, suspending travel for all Department of Defense (DOD) persons and their families, put into effect in March, was recently extended until June 30th. The order applies to both active and non-active duty DOD persons who were scheduled or had planned to travel within this timeframe. While the order has stopped many active duty from moving their Permanent Change of Station (PCS) (see further information on this here), National Guard and Reservists are also restricted in their travel, whether on active duty or not. This includes any non-official travel outside of the soldier’s regional area.

Drill and Annual Training

For many National Guard and Reservists, their unit may be located outside of their regional area and possibly in a different state. The DOD has given commanders and units authorization to reschedule, cancel, or determine alternate training locations, such as remote training, for inactive duty training such as drill or annual training. Authorized absences may also be granted if these are not available options, and commanders should convey their decision to their units. You can see the full DOD fact sheet on the order, released in March, here.

Exemptions and Waivers

The following are exclusions to the Stop Movement Order that may affect those in the National Guard and Reserves, per the DOD statement release:

  • Travel related to basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT)
  • Travel related to medical treatment for both patients and medical providers. This exemption also applies to authorized patient escorts and attendants, and to the families of medical providers.
  • Travel for Global Force Management (GFM)
  • Travel by those who have already initiated travel
  • Travel authorized by the Chief of Mission

Waivers for travel may also be obtained on a case by case basis, negotiated by the soldier’s gaining and losing organizations, under the following criteria:

  • Travel is mission essential
  • Travel is necessary for humanitarian reasons
  • Travel is warranted due to extreme hardship

If any DOD persons with travel orders have a waiver, or travel is exempted, they may want to ensure their orders have been properly documented by their gaining organization with the exemption or waiver to ensure a smooth transition. They also should ensure an open line of communication with the organization they are destined for in order to relay travel updates and itinerary plans.

The DOD policy will be reviewed every 15 days to determine if travel is safe to resume prior to June 30th.

Additional Resources

The full Stop Movement Order statement can be found within this link.

You can find more information on the DOD’s response to the Coronavirus at the following links:

Defense.gov Resources
MilitaryOneSource Resources
DefenseTravel.dod.mil Resources

 

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Big Boosts for the National Guard and Reserves

There is a possible change coming for members of the National Guard and the Reserves. Elected officials want to ensure that even part-time service members are receiving full credit for the work that they do.

In February, a group of both Republican and Democratic senators introduced a measure that would do just that. Called, the “Guard and Reserve Hazard Duty Pay Equality Act,” this would mandate Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay for members of the National Guard and the Reserves that is equal to what active duty service members receive.

Right now, they only receive a small part of what an active duty service member does. The pay can total up to $250 a month.

According to Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, a cosponsor of the bill, “The Guard members who qualify for hazard-duty incentive pay are doing work just as dangerous as their active duty counterparts, and they deserve to be compensated as such.”

Introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-WV, other cosponsors include Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, making this a bipartisan effort.

There was another similar plan to ensure that the National Guard and members of the Reserves receive time in service equality to their active duty counterparts. Even if the part-time service members are serving right beside active duty members, doing the exact same thing, their time in service is counted differently. This new measure would change that and mandate that every day a guardsman or reservist is paid and in uniform, it would count towards their educational benefits.

Full GI Bill benefits do include 36 months of in-state college tuition, a monthly living allowance, and other payments toward their education. In order to receive these benefits, service members need to have at least three years of active duty service. After 90 days on active duty, they are eligible for 40% of the educational benefit.

Hopefully, both of these measures will go through as they are important ways to help our part-time service members. More and more they are getting called upon and will probably continue to do so in the future.

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Space A Travel: Everything You Need To Know

Space-A can help you save a ton of money on plane tickets and is offered to many service members, retirees, and their dependents. The key to Space-A is knowing how to fly this way, having a lot of patience, and being able to be flexible. Here is what you should know about Space-A: 

What is Space-A Travel?

Space-A is being able to travel on DOD aircraft, for free, or a limited cost. The flights you take are on a space available basis and the number of passengers they take will depend on the flight. Space-A can get you to many different places, all over the world, but some locations are harder to fly to than others.

When you fly Space-A, you have to do some planning and research. You will need to follow the rules for signing up and make sure you know your category and what that will mean for flights. You will need to make sure you are eligible and have all the right paperwork. You can travel with children but you do need to be prepared for the whole trip, and that might be more difficult than flying commercially.

What Are The Different Categories?

Those who are eligible for Space-A will fit into one of six different categories. These categories will determine how likely it is that you can fly. This however does not mean you will never get on a flight if you are CAT-VI. It just depends on how many other people there are ahead of you on any particular flight.

Category I: Emergency Leave Unfunded Travel-Which would be for emergency situations, not for anyone who is traveling for leisure reasons.

Category II: EML (Environmental Morale Leave)- This would be for Active Duty and their accompanied dependents.

Category III: Active Duty Ordinary Leave- This category also includes those on Terminal Leave as well as their accompanied dependents, those on House Hunting Permissive TDY, Medal of Honor Holders, and dependents of deployed service members as long as they are deployed for 365 consecutive days or more. It is important to note that these dependents will be selected behind active duty members no matter when they signed up.

Category IV: Unaccompanied Dependents on EML or dependents whose sponsor is deployed between and including 30-364 days as well as DODDS teachers on EML during the summer.

Category V: Unaccompanied command sponsored and non-command sponsored dependents of active duty, permissive TDY (non house hunting) and students.

Category VI: Retired as well as their accompanied Dependents, reserve, ROTC, NUPOC, and CEC.

Can Retirees Fly Space-A?

Yes, however, it also depends on what type of retiree you are. Those who are receiving retirement pay and have a BLUE retiree ID card as well as their accompanying dependents can use Space-A. Those who are considered a “Gray Area” retiree, have limited eliginity and their dependents can not fly Space-A.

RELATED: Disabled Veterans Can Now Fly Space-A

Are You Able to Travel Without Your Service Member?

Only eligible dependents whose service member is stationed overseas, can travel unaccompanied, and would do so as CAT-V, with some CONUS restrictions. Those whose service member is deployed for 30 days or more, may travel unaccompanied anywhere that Space-A is allowed at a CAT-III, after active duty, or CAT-IV, based on how long they are deployed as mentioned above. If your spouse is not deployed, and stationed CONUS, you can not use Space-A unless you are with your service member.

What About National Guard or Reserve Members?

Reserve members on the active status list, may fly to and from, and between Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the CONUS as CAT-VI. They are unable to use Space-A to and from other locations and their dependents can not accompany them. If they are placed on active duty for more than 30 days, they can take ordinary leave and they and their dependents can use Space-A anywhere that Space-A goes. Dependents of those who are activated more than 30 days, will have the same Space-A privileges of an active duty dependent accompanied by their sponsor on ordinary leave, except they can’t travel unaccompanied under the command or non-command sponsored travel programs.

Can Widows or Widowers Use Space-A?

Widows and widowers of active duty and retired military personnel are not entitled to Space-A at this time. There has been some push for this to change.

What Do You Have To Do To Get On A Flight?

There is a process for getting on a Space-A flight. You need to make sure you complete all the steps and have everything you need to fly, otherwise you could end up being left behind on a flight you could otherwise have gone on.

Get Authorized

The first thing you need to do is get authorized to travel on Space-A. This means starting leave if you are active duty, or getting a signed and dated deployment travel letter if you are an unaccompanied dependent. If you are a retiree you should be authorized when you are ready to start the process.

Sign-up

  • You would then need to sign-up and register at the locations you plan to travel to and from. You can do this at some terminals through an online form, in person, by email, or by fax. This signing up doesn’t mean you are on a flight or have an exact flight time. What you will be doing is getting assigned a date and time. This will put you in front of anyone else in your same category who has a later date and/or time than you do.
  • You will want to sign-up as soon as possible for as many places as you think you might go. If you are unsure of where you will be flying from, sign-up for all potential places. You however don’t want to sign-up too far in advance so that your sign-up expires before the date you want to fly. For active duty, you should sign-up as soon as your leave starts and that sign-up should last until your leave is over. For non-active duty, sign-ups are valid for 60 days.
  • Each sign-up location is not affected by other locations and it would be a good idea to call to verify that you are signed-up and carry a printed copy of your emails verifying you have done so. That way, you can show that you should be on any list you need to use to travel.

Showing Up For A Flight

  • The next step would be to show up before any potential flight you want to take. Flights will get posted and you can make your plan from there. You need to mark yourself “Present” for the flight you want to go on. This tells the terminal that you are there, and will be ready to fly when the time comes.
  • When exactly you are marked “Present” doesn’t matter as far as where you are in line, the date and time of when you signed-up does, but you would need to be marked present within 24 hours of flight time.
  • It is a good idea to get to the terminal, ready to fly with all of your bags and paperwork, about an hour before what is called, “Show Time.” You would then mark yourself “Present” by checking in at the desk and then just wait until “Show Time.” At this point, you do not want to leave the area, even to go grab a bite to eat. Times can change and you want to be ready if that happens.

Show Time and Roll Call

  • “Show Time” is when “Roll Call” can begin and it is about 2-3 hours before it would be time to fly. You need to be aware of when “Show Time” is supposed to start, as well as what time you would fly if you make it on the flight. Always give yourself extra time.
  • “Roll Call” is going to be when the date and time you “signed-up” for that location and the category you are in come into play. With “Roll Call” they start with CAT-I, and go through all the way until CAT-VI, or until they fill all the seats. For example, someone who is in CAT-IV, who signed up on June 1st, at 10:30 am will be ahead of someone who signed up for CAT-IV, on June 1st, at 11:30 am. All of CAT-IV would be ahead of all of CAT-5. They might just have 10 seats, or they might have 50 seats, it depends on the flight, aircraft, and how much space they actually have on the flight.
  • You will need to be right there during “Roll Call.” If you are somewhere else, and they call your name, and you don’t check in, you will not make it on the flight. You will need to be travel ready when this happens.

Manifested

  • Being “Manifested” means you are selected for a flight, you will be going on this flight, unless the flight itself is cancelled or you get bumped for cargo. This is where you want to be.
  • You can also be “Manifested Through” which means you won’t have to compete for a seat on your second flight. However, you need to make sure you are “Manifested Through” to your end location. This however does not mean you have your round trip covered. You will have to compete for seats on your return trip, whenever that might be.

How Much Does Space-A Travel Cost?

Most of the Space-A flights are free, however, if you take a Patriot Express flight, you will be charged a head tax and inspection fees. These fees are between $17.80-$35.20 depending on where you are going. A Patriot Express flight is Air Mobility Command’s name for its commercial charter flights. The process getting on the flight would be the same, however, these flights can sometimes be a little easier to get on, depending on when you are flying, and would be similar to a commercial flight flying experience. Make sure to bring cash to pay for this flight as not all places take a credit card. The rest of the flights would be on a military aircraft, which could be a cargo flight or a tanker and would look different than a commercial airline, although there wouldn’t be a cost.

You will also need to have extra money for possible stays in hotels, extra food, or even money for transportation. Because some flights get cancelled or they can be hard to get on right away, you might have to wait near the terminal for a few nights.

How Many Bags Can You Bring?

For Space-A, how much you can bring depends on the flight you are on. Some flights you can bring two pieces of luggage each, not to exceed 70lbs. Others, you have to be under 30lbs. If you plan to stay under 30lbs, including your hand carried luggage, you have increased your chances of getting on a flight.

Where Can You Go For Extra Help?

There are a few websites that have everything you would need to know about Space-A and can help you plan your trip, figure out flight times, and answer all of your questions about this method of travel.

The Air Mobility Command website– This is where you can read information about how Space-A works, sign-up for flights, and more.

SpaceA.net– An informational site with everything you would need to know about the ins and outs of Space-A travel.

Dick Pepperd’s Space-A Message Board– Flight information, lodging information, trip reports from your fellow travelers, and more.

Space-A Travelers Facebook Group– This group has over 70,000 people and a lot of great tips for Space-A travel.

Poppin’ Smoke– This blogger has a ton of Space-A posts about what to do, and how to make Space-A work for you.

Any Other Tips For Flying Space-A?

The main thing you need to remember is that Space-A is going to require some planning. You will need to spend some time researching where you are going to go, how many flights they have, and how easy it might be for you to get on a flight. Certain times of the year are busier than others and you will need to bring your patience.

Flights can get delayed, for days. You might go through the entire process, end up on a flight, only to have to get off and start all over again because there is something going on with the plane. You need to have a plan for if your first idea doesn’t work out.

There are a lot of benefits to flying Space-A. You can see the world, and can do so without having to spend a lot of money, but you have to understand that you will have to work for it. Some flights will be easier than others, and you just never really know what you will find when you attempt to fly Space-A.

If you need to get to your destination by a certain date, Space-A might not be the best way to get there. Unlike a commercial airline, you are not guaranteed a time and a place to fly. Being flexible and understanding is a must. If you can go into Space-A with that mindset, you can really enjoy everything Space-A has to offer. 

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