National Guard mission at Capitol counts toward GI Bill benefits
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 28, 2021
WASHINGTON — Thousands of National Guard soldiers who deployed to Washington this month after the deadly mob takeover of the U.S. Capitol earned education benefits for the mission, a National Guard leader clarified Thursday.
Maj. Gen. Eric Little, director of manpower and personnel for the National Guard Bureau, wrote to lawmakers, saying the mission counted toward troops’ eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits because of the way the deployment orders were authorized.
“Our National Guard members received a variety of benefits, including eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, while supporting the two most recent national events … the novel coronavirus disease response and the 59th presidential inauguration/security of federal proprieties,” Little confirmed.
Last week, there was confusion among lawmakers and Guard members who weren’t sure whether the weeks spent in Washington would count toward their education benefits. To receive the maximum education benefits, Guard members need three years on active duty. They become eligible for about half of veteran education benefits once they reach 90 days on active duty.
About 26,000 Guard members gathered in Washington after a mob rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They worked checkpoints and patrolled the halls of Congress before, during and after President Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20. Federal law enforcement agencies have asked for about 5,000 troops to remain in Washington through March 12 because of the potential for more violence.
Particularly for the troops who remain at the Capitol into March, the mission could get them to the 90-day threshold for receiving thousands of dollars in tuition benefits.
Takano and Levin applauded their eligibility for benefits Thursday but said it shouldn’t have even come into question.
“While I am pleased that the National Guard members protecting our Capitol will be able to earn GI Bill benefits for their service, this confusion was another poignant reminder that too often servicemembers taking on the same risks as their active-duty counterparts aren’t getting the same benefits,” Takano said.
During the last congressional session, Levin introduced legislation aiming to eliminate some of the disparity in benefits between National Guard and Reserve members and active-duty troops. Under the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act, every day that a Guard or Reserve member is paid and in uniform would count toward their benefits eligibility.
The bill didn’t make it through Congress during the last session, but Levin said Thursday he planned to reintroduce it.
“I look forward to reintroducing that bill soon and ensuring Guard and Reserve members always receive the GI Bill benefits they deserve,” he said.
Guard members have been called in for several recent high-profile situations, from helping with coronavirus response to aiding in wildfires and civil disturbances. They’ve gained the attention of members of Congress while patrolling the Capitol over the past few weeks.
In addition to outcry over education benefits, lawmakers criticized the decision to have thousands of Guard members sleep on the ground of a parking garage on Capitol Hill. After several lawmakers spoke out, the troops were moved back inside.
Army Maj. Gen. William Walker, the D.C. National Guard Commander, said about 200 Guard members who deployed to the Capitol had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday.
Members of the National Guard salute during the presidential inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C., on Jan. 20, 2021. At least 25,000 Guard members were authorized to conduct security, communication and logistical missions leading up and through the 59th Presidential Inauguration.
RYAN CAMPBELL/U.S. AIR FORCE