An Issue of Fairness - By Mike Hadley

NATIONAL GUARD magazine
March 2017
Washington Update

By Mike Hadley
(read online digital version)

Combatant commanders worldwide are making greater use of a mobilization authority that has inherent inequities for National Guardsmen and Reservists.

Reserve-component troops mobilized under what is known as 12304b receive no TRICARE coverage and do not earn education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Their service also does not count toward reducing the age at which they can receive retirement pay. Nor does it qualify them for high-tempo deployment allowances.

However, the active-component personnel who they may be serving alongside do qualify for the full range of benefits.

It’s simply unfair to ask members of the same military to share hardships, separations and even grave danger, but receive unequal compensation. It’s also a retreat from the progress made over the last 15 years to recognize the Guard and Reserves’ pivotal role in worldwide operations.

The 12304b authority has been around since 2012 and is becoming more popular. In fiscal 2013, fewer than 200 Army Guardsmen mobilized under its provisions. In fiscal 2016, that number had grown to nearly 1,500. Air Guardsmen suffer the same inequities, but have been mobilized in much smaller numbers.

The use of 12304b is expected to increase for so-called preplanned missions, like those in Kosovo and the Sinai, because it gives the services easy access to the Guard and Reserve. But that will, of course, exacerbate the inequities.

For many troops, the lack of benefits comes as a surprise. One Marine Reservist upon returning from a mission in Central America recently called the news “a kick in the gut.”

Making 12304b even more confounding is its impact on families. Reserve-component members begin to receive TRICARE when they mobilize, but they are not around to help their loved ones sign up or determine if their regular doctors accept the military’s health plan.

Anyone who has been a member of the Guard and Reserve for any length of time knows the Defense Department has far too many duty statuses with which to activate them—32, in fact. The Pentagon has plans to reduce that number to four.

NGAUS will support that effort, but the decrease is not expected to take effect for two or three years.

In the interim, we seek a remedy to the disparity found in 12304b. We’re working closely with the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States and Reserve Officers Association to fix this issue before it creates trust and morale problems.

One Air Guard lieutenant colonel who watched his airmen endure a deployment under 12304b said it hurt retention.

Fortunately, we have found support in Congress. Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Miss., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., House members with Guard backgrounds, have legislation pending that would erase the disparities. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has developed a bill for the Senate.

They are awaiting a Republican sponsor for Franken’s legislation before moving ahead.

A roadblock that must be overcome is that any solution includes increased costs, which is always a concern for lawmakers.

NGAUS does not consider this a spending issue, but one of simple fairness. It makes no sense to ask two troops to perform the same mission in the same place at the same time and then compensate them differently.

We are hopeful that a Republican senator will recognize this and step forward to add his or her name to the bill so it can move forward.

You can do your part by contacting your elected representatives and make them aware of this issue and the legislation awaiting introduction in both chambers of Congress. Equal compensation should be an obvious choice.

The author is the NGAUS legislative director. He can be contacted at mike.hadley@ngaus.org.