Advocacy groups urged a Senate panel last week to move forward with legislation to provide benefits parity between active duty soldiers and reservists deployed for disasters or overseas mission support.
Under Title 10, Section 12304b of the U.S. Code, reservists can be deployed overseas for a “preplanned mission in support of a combatant command.” The new order was intended to provide Defense Department officials with greater flexibility to mobilize members of the National Guard and other reserve units.
But the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which established the deployment authority, neglected to update a number of programs to include 12304b-deployed troops. That means some reservists have been barred from accumulating benefits through the Post 9/11 GI Bill, reduced age for retirement, federal civilian differential pay, post-mobilization health care and other programs.
At a hearing on a range of bills before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, officials representing a number of veteran and reservist organizations urged lawmakers to support the Educational Development for Troops and Veterans Act (S.473), introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
The bill would allow reservists deployed through 12304b to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and protect them from wages lost while deployed. The legislation also would allow reservists to defer student loan payments while deployed and establishes a grant program to improve veteran education centers at colleges and universities.
Roy Robinson, a retired brigadier general and president of the National Guard Association of the United States, said reservists have gone on lengthy deployments, only to discover they had not earned any benefits when they returned home.
“You’ve got more and more reserve members finding out the hard way,” Robinson said. “They’re not finding out through leadership telling them, but when they go through the demobilization process, all those benefits are not there like they thought they would be.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said he was surprised when he first heard that some reserve members did not accrue benefits in a similar fashion to active duty service members, and noted that the Senate approved a similar bill—the Veterans Education Improvement Act of 2016—last December, although it languished in the House.
Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for Student Veterans of America, said there should be no controversy around ensuring all who are deployed to serve in the military receive the benefits they were promised.
“Many of these service members perform the exact same duties as their active duty counterparts, yet they realize none of the benefits,” he said. “Fixing this is discrepancy is a top priority for SVA, as well as nearly 40 other military, veteran and higher education organizations.”
Robinson argued that given the frequency of mobilization of reserve units in recent years, lawmakers and the Defense Department should see addressing the benefits disparity as a “readiness” issue.
“Unless people dig into the intricacies of all the benefits that they’re not being awarded through 12304 Bravo, they may not understand that it actually turns into a readiness issue,” he said. “As these soldiers and airmen come out of one mobilization, as they are going through the reintegration, they’re actually preparing and becoming ready for the next mobilization. It’s actually an issue the country needs to pick up on, because the readiness of those forces are tied to the benefits they’re not currently going to receive under 12304 Bravo orders.”