Governors of 31 states and territories are asking the Defense Department for funding to keep National Guardsmen on COVID-19 response missions through late fall and possibly the end of the year, a Pentagon spokesman said.
An extension of Title 32 orders would enable troops to continue to receive federal pay and benefits, which include Tricare health insurance, access to disability through the Department of Veterans Affairs if injured, and eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Stars and Stripes first reported the request on July 15.
Domestically deployed troops total an unprecedented nearly 32,000 personnel supporting emergency responses to COVID-19, natural disasters, and unrest surrounding racial injustice protests, a Guard press release stated.
National Guardsmen are currently involved in COVID-19 response efforts in all 50 states, three territories, and Washington, D.C.
If the Title 32 orders are not extended, states will be responsible for the costs associated with their National Guard’s emergency response, often meaning lower pay and less benefits for troops. Currently, the Title 32 orders are scheduled to end Aug. 21.
The National Guard Bureau is continuing to assess the best path forward and work with states, FEMA, and the DoD to respond to COVID-19, Army Master Sgt. Michael Houk, a National Guard Bureau spokesman said.
National Guard troops have been mobilizing since March in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Troops’ roles range from administering tests and working in hospitals to supply distribution and food preparation.
“We’re very proud of being an important piece of the Air Force and the Army, but what we’re doing now for this pandemic is uniquely and distinctly National Guard business,” said Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, in a press release.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sent a letter to President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Friday asking for National Guard troops to be mobilized through the end of the year, calling Guard troops “a crucial part of the state’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“As in all national-level emergencies, the secretary of defense makes the final decisions regarding the length of time National Guard members are activated under federally funded orders, while the soldiers and airmen remain under the operational control of their governors,” National Guard Bureau spokesman Wayne Hall told Military Times.
Troops serving as part of states’ COVID-19 responses are eligible for two service medals: the Armed Forces Service Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal.