Wicker Works to Fix Inequalities in National Guard Benefits
New Bill Recognizes the Expanded Role of Our National Guard and Reserve Forces
The U.S. military could not do its job without the critical contributions of our citizen-warriors in the National Guard and Reserves. The demands on our military have increased substantially in the 17 years since the Sept. 11 attacks. Our Reserve Component has been ready and capable to accept its share of overseas deployments.
National Guard and Reserve forces are fully operational. They are no longer the “strategic reserve” of the Cold War era, on hold for mobilization in large-scale contingencies. And yet, these men and women are still not entitled to some of the benefits delivered to their active-duty counterparts on the exact same missions.
Closing the Gap Would Help Build a Stronger Guard and Reserves
I introduced new legislation titled the “National Guard and Reserves Benefit Parity Act” to eliminate remaining benefit inequalities. This bill, introduced on February 13, would address three important gaps that Congress has yet to resolve affecting Guardsmen and Reservists’ eligibility for early retirement, deployment pay, and protections against pay reductions when activated.
My bill has strong support from my colleagues, as well as from organizations like the National Guard Association of the United States and our military leadership. “This legislation strengthens our Guard and Reserves,” said Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, the Adjutant General of Mississippi. “It also benefits our military families as their loved ones serve during increased operations both stateside and abroad.”
Pentagon Turns to Guardsmen and Reservists for Preplanned Missions
It is wrong to shortchange our Guardsmen and Reservists for their service, especially when our country continues to ask more of them. In 2012, the defense authorization bill gave the Pentagon a new mobilization authority to deploy Guard and Reserve forces for missions usually performed by active-duty soldiers, such as peacekeeping in Kosovo and the Sinai Peninsula. In just the past four years, Guardsmen and Reservists have seen a 243 percent increase in activations for these types of missions. Thousands of Mississippians could be among those mobilized or deployed this year.
This expansion of the National Guard and Reserves’ role is a testament to the skills and capabilities of its members. These men and women are performing the same service as their active-duty counterparts. There is no reason why they should not also be earning points toward early retirement, qualifying for a high-deployment allowance, or – in the case of federal civilian employees – assured that their pay will not be reduced because of their mobilization.
Wicker Bill Would Build on Recent Efforts to Address Benefit Disparities
Congress has already taken steps to provide our National Guardsmen and Reservists with the benefits they deserve. The most recent defense authorization bill and the “Forever GI Bill” extended health care to Guardsmen and Reservists before mobilization and during transitional periods. These bills also expanded educational assistance for those who joined the military after Sept. 11 and offered rehabilitation services to veterans with service-related disabilities.
If we want to continue recruiting the best men and women for our active-duty and reserve forces, we need to ensure that their service does not go unappreciated. Correcting benefit inequalities is important to recruitment, retention, national security, and the well-being of these citizen soldiers, who number more than 12,000 in our state. They have earned these benefits, putting life and limb on the line alongside their active-duty compatriots to defend our freedom.