After a year of unprecedented use of the National Guard At home while still juggling combat missions overseas, military leaders say their goals are to slow the operational tempo and provide health care to the force.
“Our force has been heavily engaged over the past 20 years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and around the world,” he added. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville told lawmakers during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the service’s budget on Wednesday. “My concern is that we want to make sure that we reduce the operational tempo of our troops, including the National Guard who have been heavily employed, whether at home or abroad.”
The past year has seen unusually high use of the National Guard at home, as it has been deployed virtually non-stop to handle pandemic relief and civil unrest, administer vaccinations and protect the US Capitol after the onslaught of the pro-Trump crowd in January.
Currently, there are 32,000 guards supporting pandemic relief efforts and just over 2,300 on civil unrest missions in Georgia, Minnesota and Texas, according to the National Guard Bureau. This includes the Capitol Security Mission in Washington, D.C. Approximately 20,000 troops are deployed overseas in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
The long series of domestic missions has the potential to be a massive strain on the force. Guards must keep their civilian jobs and have no legal protection against employer reprisals while under state orders. They also do not benefit from childcare services.
Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the Guard, told lawmakers on Tuesday that the lack of a free, premium healthcare service for troops is a key issue, which Congress may need to address.
“What happens if they get sick or injured when they leave orders? Hokanson said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday. “One of my most pressing concerns is free premium health care for every guard who serves in uniform.”
In their conventional roles, members of the Guard are entitled to purchase medical and dental coverage through Tricare. Still, Hokanson’s comment comes as lawmakers increasingly scrutinize the benefits and Pay gap between National Guard troops and their active duty counterparts.
Some have argued that bureaucracy and fine print over how troops are activated in domestic missions can unfairly rob guards of their benefits.
While under state orders, troops cannot file claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs in the event of an injury, do not earn a full housing allowance or accrue benefits such as IG invoice. However, if that same mission is federalized under Title 32, which keeps the troops under state command but sends the bill to the federal government, the guards earn all the benefits and are entitled to the same health care as their counterparts. on active duty, but only after 30 days of service and if the President declares an emergency.
There is no bill on the table to provide free health insurance to Guard soldiers when off duty. So far, most efforts to achieve benefit parity for the Guard have focused on the GI Bill.
Providing health insurance to the force of 441,539 men would be a huge expense for the government, but Congress appears to be in the early stages of its review.
“We’re going to have a panel that will deal with health services. Some things we need to understand is who doesn’t have health insurance, if people have chosen not to sign up for it – I want to see how it breaks down by state,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee advocacy committee. “I need to figure out how Tricare fits into all of this.”
— Steve Beynon can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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