Soldiers and airmen from the Minnesota National Guard conduct COVID-19 testing at an armory on May 23, 2020.

Soldiers and airmen from the Minnesota National Guard conduct COVID-19 testing at an armory on May 23, 2020. (Linsey Williams/Minnesota National Guard)

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WASHINGTON — Thousands of troops who have deployed to help battle the coronavirus pandemic could soon receive hazard pay and awards to recognize their service, the military’s top general said Thursday.

A group of Pentagon officials comprised of the senior enlisted leadership from each service is now determining what the rules will be for hazard pay and awards for personnel, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a virtual town hall event at the Pentagon.

More than 55,600 Defense Department personnel are deployed throughout the United States for coronavirus relief efforts, including about 46,000 National Guard members, according to the Pentagon. Some of these service members have conducted testing or treated coronavirus patients, increasing their risk of becoming infected by the virus.

“I expect that we'll put out some guidance that will be definitive under [Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s] signature about hazardous duty pay, about awards, about unit awards, individual awards, etc. All of that kind of stuff is absolutely under consideration,” he said.

Milley said the policy could be determined within the next 30 days.

During the town hall, Esper also reiterated his support for extending federal orders for Guard members who are on coronavirus missions approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Some National Guard members who were called up in late March to support relief efforts were set to have their orders end June 24, just short of the 90 days required to receive some GI Bill benefits.

“If it's a valid mission assignment, we should certainly extend it. And we should extend that mission assignment until the mission is accomplished,” Esper said.

The Pentagon is also working to make certain Guard members receive time to quarantine once their mission is complete so they do not infect their families or community when they return home, the defense secretary said. Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

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