Senators look to help Guard, Reserve ease burdens of extended deployment
Stars and Stripes May 21, 2004
WASHINGTON — As Congress continues its debate on the fiscal 2005 defense spending bill, three lawmakers are proposing amendments to boost benefits for Guard and Reserve members.
In the past, their efforts have been opposed by the Pentagon and administration, which stalled measures in the Congress.
“We will overcome with persistence,” said Minority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D. “Regardless of DOD resistance, we’re not going to go away.”
A trio of Democrats — Daschle, Sen Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen Bill Nelson, D-Fla. — are lobbying their peers and the Defense Department to adopt measures they say will ease burdens on activated Guard and Reserve troops and their families, and they plan to attach their proposals to the 2005 Authorization Act.
“As we all know too well, our Guard and Reserve are seeing their tours extended and that is placing tremendous burdens on their families,” Murray said at a press briefing Wednesday, joining Daschle and Nelson.
There are 169,000 activated members, and roughly 57,000 of them are deployed to the Central Command area, which includes Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
The proposals, if adopted, would apply to Guard and Reserve troops activated for more than 30 days and would include:
• A government-sponsored program to cover the difference in salaries between activated members’ civilian pay and military pay.
• Up to $12,000 in tax credits for employers who cover the pay differential, and to hire temporary replacements.
• Providing access to or funding for affordable child care to spouses who feel they need to seek employment when Guard and Reserve members are activated, particularly for those families who take a pay cut between their civilian and military salaries.
• Extending benefits of the active duty Montgomery GI Bill programs to activated members, including extending eligibility up to five years after separating from service.
• Extending the Family and Medical Leave Act protections to Guard and Reserve spouses. Current provisions let active-duty members’ spouses take time away from their job, without pay, for a transition to a single head-of-household residence during long-term deployments.
• Lowering the eligible retirement age for Guard and Reserve from 60 to 55.
• Providing continued Tricare health care benefits to members and their families, not just when activated.
The Pentagon’s resistance boils down to funding, and unfounded mandates sometimes placed by Congress on agencies, said Lou Leto, a spokesman the Reserve Officers Association.
“Money — that’s the whole thing,” Leto said. “DOD has said they can’t afford it, and that’s been the main thing.”
It doesn’t keep the organization from lobbying for the benefits, he said, which would help prevent a potential mass exodus of Guard and Reserve troops following their deployments.
“That’s one of our concerns, but we haven’t seen that happen yet,” he said.