Lawmakers Push President Trump, Defense Secretary, and FEMA Administrator to Address National Guard Health Care, GI Bill and Retirement Benefits
Denver – Today, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) and Colorado U.S. Representatives Jason Crow (D) and Doug Lamborn (R) led a bipartisan group of 125 Members of Congress in a letter to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor calling on the administration to ensure National Guard personnel who are serving on the front lines of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) response efforts across the nation receive the federal benefits they have earned.
“Thousands of National Guard servicemembers have been providing invaluable support for testing civilians and Guard personnel, logistics and warehouse distribution, planning for Emergency Operations Centers, homelessness outreach, and much more,” wrote the lawmakers. “…National Guard servicemembers have been supporting state efforts in high threat and high risk areas, namely, medical support to prisons; frontline testing at hot spots and critical infrastructure locations; supporting tracing operations; and providing direct care to COVID-19 positive citizens, including at care facilities like Veterans Living Centers and homeless populations.”
In the letter, Bennet, Gardner, Crow, Lamborn and their colleagues proposed recommendations for addressing concerns related to the National Guard’s federal status, leave, health care, and GI Bill and retirement benefits. Addressing reports that National Guard personnel service may be stopped at 89 days preventing them from receiving full benefits, the members “encourage [the administration] to be inclusive of pandemic response affiliated military service to ensure that National Guard personnel are not being inappropriately prevented from accessing the benefits earned by their service.”
They continued, “…it is critical to ensure that all National Guard personnel are taken care of during this crisis and after, recognizing that the threat of COVID-19 will not immediately go away and the National Guard is likely to be called on again in the future... We are proud of [their] incredible contributions.”
“National Guard soldiers and airmen on the COVID-19 front lines nationwide greatly appreciate the support led by Sens. Gardner and Bennet and Reps. Crow and Lamborn,” said retired Brigadier General J. Roy Robinson, the president of the National Guard Association of the United States. “This pandemic is far from over. These brave men and women want to stay in the fight until their missions are complete, not to some arbitrary date on the calendar. To do that, they need the support of their leaders in Washington, including medical coverage that should follow their return home to their families.“
“As we continue to open up the state and economy, having the National Guard’s Personnel and Capabilities rapidly deploy for testing, containment, and training especially in our most vulnerable Senior and Veteran populations is an absolute requirement. I urge the Federal Government to continue allowing us the authorities and funding under 502(f)(2), which guarantees the safety and health of all Americans,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
In addition to Bennet and Gardner, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
In addition to Crow and Lamborn, the letter was also signed by U.S. Representatives Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-Calif.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), Filemon Vela (D-Texas), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (R-Tenn.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-Va.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.), A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Alma S. Adams Ph.D. (D-N.C.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Abigail D. Spanberger (D-Va.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.), David Trone (D-Md.), William Timmons (R-S.C.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.), J. Luis Correa (D-Calif.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Steve Womack (R-Ark.), Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Robert J. Wittman (R-Va.), Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.).
The text of the letter is available HERE and below.
Dear Mr. President, Secretary Esper, and Administrator Gaynor:
We write today to raise a number of issues impacting the National Guard personnel deployed in support of the fight against Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The National Guard has been critical in executing the nation’s pandemic response efforts. Thousands of National Guard servicemembers have been providing invaluable support for testing civilians and Guard personnel, logistics and warehouse distribution, planning for Emergency Operations Centers, homelessness outreach, and much more. We also recognize that National Guard servicemembers have been supporting state efforts in high threat and high risk areas, namely, medical support to prisons; frontline testing at hot spots and critical infrastructure locations; supporting tracing operations; and providing direct care to COVID-19 positive citizens, including at care facilities like Veterans Living Centers and homeless populations.
Our national success in flattening the curve will not be possible without the contributions of the National Guard. We believe it is critical to ensure that all National Guard personnel are taken care of during this crisis and after, recognizing that the threat of COVID-19 will not immediately go away and the National Guard is likely to be called on again in the future.
Therefore, we urge you to consider our recommendations for addressing the following concerns immediately.
- Federal Status: We ask that you consider keeping all National Guard servicemembers supporting the COVID-19 mission on 502(f)(2) status rather than transitioning to State Active Duty (SAD) orders regardless of future FEMA reimbursement. This will ensure healthcare commensurate with the work they are performing is available. This will also ensure they are able to continue support to the nation’s effort without uncertainty of status. If orders are to be extended on a month-to-month basis, we ask that all orders are 31 days or longer in duration and that the announcement of extensions be made early in the month in order to allow for preparation by each state’s leadership teams.
- Leave: We are encouraged by the recent change that will allow National Guard members to sell back unused leave without penalty or roll over accrued leave to another activated status. We ask that you continue to provide National Guard members with flexibility in how they may utilize leave accrued during the COVID-19 response, and ensure necessary federal funding to support the different leave usage options.
- Healthcare: We ask that you ensure the National Guard members activated in support of COVID-19 are provided Transition Assistance Management Program (TAMP) benefits for 180 days after coming off orders, similar to their Reserve counterparts.
- GI Bill and Retirement Benefits: We believe that the service of National Guard members during this unprecedented emergency is deserving of the recognition intended by educational and retirement benefit programs in the spirit in which they were created. We encourage you to be inclusive of pandemic response affiliated military service to ensure that National Guard personnel are not being inappropriately prevented from accessing the benefits earned by their service.
We are proud of the incredible contributions of the National Guard. They have been a critical team member in the nation’s fight against COVID-19. We welcome your support in ensuring they are kept safe, healthy, and receive the benefits they deserve.