House lawmakers are pushing to ensure that the National Guard deployment to Capitol Hill to provide security to Congress will count towards credit for veteran education benefits.
In a letter to National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson this week, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., and the panel’s economic opportunity subcommittee chairman Mike Levin, D-Calif., asked for military officials to explain what GI Bill benefits the troops will be eligible for after the Capitol Hill security mission and whether additional legislation is needed to properly recognize their work.
“We know that (guardsmen) want to be utilized and they want to serve their communities in times of crisis, but we must ensure they are rightfully granted the benefits they have earned, and that the sacrifices that come with wearing a uniform ‘part-time’ do not hinder their success or disincentivize them from serving,” the pair wrote
The decision of how the deployment is classified could impact the nearly 26,000 guardsmen who traveled to Washington, D.C. in the wake of the attack on the Capitol building earlier this month.
For the last two weeks, thousands of Guard troops have been mobilized in a variety of security missions, including standing watch over the halls of Congress and this week’s inauguration of President Joe Biden.
To receive full education benefits — which include 36 months of in-state college tuition, a monthly living stipend and other payouts — service members need three full years on active duty. But the 90-day mark is significant for many guardsmen because it makes them eligible for at least 50 percent of the full benefit, which still totals thousands of dollars in tuition payments.
With some guardsmen expected to stay in Washington, D.C. until March, the Capitol security mission alone could qualify some guardsmen for those payouts. In addition, National Guard officials say that the benefits do accrue when activated under federal status, as was the case for this mission.
However, Takano and Levin said in their letter that they have been told troops on the mission may not be accruing time to be counted towards GI Bill benefits, due to the way the current deployment orders were authorized. They’ve asked for a full accounting of the legal authorities and benefits issues.
“Our colleagues have rightfully praised the service members protecting the halls of Congress, and we think it is important that they understand how and when those same service members are earning eligibility for the GI Bill,” the lawmakers wrote.
National Guard Bureau spokesman Wayne Hall said it was inappropriate to comment on interpersonal communications between members of Congress and the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Earlier on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden had called Hokanson to “thank him for not just his work of the last few weeks but the work of the National Guard over the last several years” and to offer “any assistance needed” in coming days.
Last year, Levin introduced legislation dubbed the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act which would mandate parity in GI Bill benefits for guardsmen and reservists “who increasingly conduct similar training and missions as other servicemembers, but do not receive equal benefits.”
The pair is hoping the up-close Guard deployment will help refocus attention on that proposal, which did not become law last year.
“There is no question that in the past year our National Guard and Reservists have answered our country’s call time and again to meet unique challenges,” the lawmakers wrote. “Now, more than ever, it is time for us to fix the benefit disparity that exists for these individuals.”
More than 92,000 guardsmen are currently deployed in homeland and overseas missions, including about 23,000 conducting pandemic response missions.
Military Times managing editor Howard Altman contributed to this report.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.