Reacting to concerns that National Guard troops fighting COVID-19 under Title 32 orders were being denied Tricare and increased housing benefits, President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order extending those activations by one day.
Authorizing National Guard units to be activated under Title 32 for increments of up to 31 days — instead of the previous 30 — allows those troops to receive Tricare medical coverage and increased Basic Allowance for Housing payments. Those benefits only kicked after 30 days.
The limitations on benefits under the old orders was first reported by Military Times.
Trump’s executive order, which must be enacted in two weeks, was lauded by Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau and the National Guard Association of the United States, a non-profit advocating for Guard interests.
Lengyel told reporters during a Pentagon press conference Wednesday afternoon that the executive order is good for the troops activated under Title 32 because it gives them full Tricare healthcare benefits and increased Basic Allowance for Housing.
Lengyel added that he did not know why the initial authorization only called for 30 days.
“We recommended a longer period of time in the beginning,” he said.
Like Lengyel, NGAUS praised the move.
“Guard soldiers and airmen could go to military treatment facilities if they are hurt or fear they are infected with the coronavirus, but most are not serving near such a facility. Only TRICARE enables them to go to local doctors and hospitals without using their private insurance or digging into their pockets. NGAUS pressed hard for the president to add at least one more day to those orders,” NGAUS said in a prepared statement.
Moving Guardsmen from state active duty to federal Title 32 status has been slow and uneven, NGAUS said. “But thanks to this executive order, Guardsmen who do receive Title 32 orders now know they can get the medical coverage they need. One added day makes a big difference" according to NGAUS.
Going to Title 32 status makes it easier for governors to mobilize the state-level Guard because Trump ordered the federal government to pick up the costs related to those activations. But the move was also supposed to allow troops mobilized under that status to receive essentially the same benefits as active duty troops, including Tricare health insurance, points toward retirement and full GI Bill benefits.
However, Military Times first reported that because the initial Title 32 activation only lasts for 30 days, troops would fall one day short of the 31 days required by federal law to receive Tricare health insurance or an upgrade to the Basic Allowance for Housing.
“Part of the reason for going to Title 32 is that these troops are going to be constantly exposed to people and other places where this sickness can be transmitted,” retired Mississippi National Guard Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, the NGAUS president, told Military Times last week. “It is more important now than any other time for them to have Tricare insurance."
Robinson said many troops, especially in rural states, don’t have their own personal heath insurance and rely on Tricare.
In an interview Wednesday, Robinson explained in more detail how Trump’s order will affect troops.
Drilling Guard troops can opt in for Tricare Reserve Select and chose to pay premiums to cover them and their families. But many troops don’t opt in for several reasons, including cost and often, insurance through a civilian job or spouse.
But with unemployment skyrocketing, many of those healthcare options are disappearing, Robinson said.
Trump’s executive order allows Guard troops to obtain Tricare Prime at no cost, he said.
As of Wednesday morning, there are nearly 28,400 Air and Army National Guard troops mobilized in the fight against COVID-19 in 21 states, two territories and Washington D.C. under Title 32 orders, according to the latest information from the Pentagon.
There are currently 349 Guard troops who have tested positive for COVID-19. On March 28, New Jersey National Guard Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok became the first service member to die from COVID-19.
If you are a member of the National Guard, and mobilized in the fight against COVID-19, Military Times would like to hear your story. Email managing editor Howard Altman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.