Reservists and National Guard members could soon see expanded access to Tricare for some troops, the return of some benefits after certain deployments and help for students through an annual defense spending deal brokered on Capitol Hill this week.
Like active-duty troops, reservists and members of the National Guard have access to benefits set by federal law. But because most split their time between military and civilian jobs, their benefit changes have less visibility in the National Defense Authorization Act.
The law is expected to pass the Senate next week, then head to the president’s desk for his signature.
What's in the fiscal 2020 NDAA specifically for Guard and Reserve members? Here's a snapshot of some of the major changes.
Deployment Benefits Fix
A 2012 law allowed guardsmen and reservists to be mobilized involuntarily for certain types of deployment rotations supporting combatant commands, known as "12304b orders." But the law failed to put in place a measure that allows troops on those orders to receive the post-deployment benefits Reserve and Guard members otherwise get, such as access to the post-9/11 GI Bill and transitional health benefits. While those specific issues were remedied in laws passed in 2017 and 2018, one major benefit problem lingered: qualifications around retirement.
The 2020 NDAA would fix that problem, putting those deployments in a category that allows Guard and Reserve members to reach retirement faster, just as they would on other types of federal deployments. The change would be retroactive to 2012.
Expanded Tricare Access for Guardsmen on Tech Orders
About 60,000 traditional drilling Guard members also work in their Guard units as federal civilian employees. Known as "dual-status technician" jobs, these billets give Guard units better continuity between drill weekends without moving troops to active Guard roles.
But because Guard techs qualify for DoD civilian employee benefits, federal law blocks them from using Tricare, an option that would lower out-of-pocket costs for most users but result in a steep additional cost to the Tricare program.
The 2020 NDAA would allow techs to qualify for Tricare in 2030. That delay will give lawmakers a chance to find a way to pay for it, officials with the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) said. They said they'll be working with Congress next year to find an offset that will allow them to bump the start date forward to 2021.
A New Guard and Reserve Student Identifier
Federal law requires the Department of Education to work with schools to track students in active-duty families in order to gauge how they perform in school. But the law does not require or ask for that tracking for children in Guard or Reserve families.
The 2020 NDAA changes that, instead allowing the performance of all military-connected children to be tracked.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.