More than 40,000 National Guard members are hard at work helping states fight the novel coronavirus, from testing to disinfecting facilities to contact tracing—and the Trump administration plans to screw them over to save some money. The administration announced a “hard stop” on deployments on a date that just happens to be one day before any of the troops qualify for important benefits.
National Guard members on federal deployment for 90 days get early retirement and education benefits, so this “hard stop” will hit on June 24, 89 days after the first deployments in late March. “It’s a Wednesday. And it also coincides with 89 days of deployment for any soldiers who went on federal status at the beginning,” noted retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, president of the National Guard Association. “I was getting all kind of calls about it and I said, ‘It’s probably just a coincidence.’ But in the back of my mind, I know better. They’re screwing the National Guard members out of the status they should have.”
Not only is June 24 a Wednesday, but it’s the end of a rare 24-day extension. Thought and planning went into this.
National Guard members who do 90 days in one fiscal year can move up the date on which they retire with a pension, so in theory some of these members could qualify on another deployment, but there’s absolutely no guarantee. A 40% tuition discount at public colleges and universities can be earned across fiscal years. State governments can’t fix this by extending deployments by a day, though, because only federal deployments earn these benefits. The National Guard members will also lose active duty health care when their federal deployments end—and by the way, 1,158 have tested positive for COVID-19.
And the Trump administration would really appreciate some message discipline on this. “We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” a senior FEMA official said on an interagency call obtained by Politico.
State officials have been asking the Trump administration to extend the National Guard deployments past June 24 because they need the help fighting the pandemic. And a National Guard spokesperson didn’t rule out another extension, saying: “Nobody can say where we’ll need to be more than a month down the road.” But it’s clear a lot of thought and planning went into this, and the fact that an extension would be the right thing to do is only likely to weigh against it in the Trump administration’s decision-making process.