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Guidance Aims to Protect Pay, Benefits Amid Pandemic

COVID-19 Response
COVID-19 Response
Washington Report

Military leaders have taken steps to protect pay and benefits for troops impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including members of the National Guard.

Guidance released by the Pentagon earlier this month would maintain special and incentive pays for hazardous duties and makes clear that soldiers and airmen should not lose their Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance or TRICARE Reserve Select as a result of hardships caused by the spread of COVID-19.

Officials said the guidance to commanders was issued as a result of COVID-19 and aimed at minimizing risk to military personnel and their families while ensuring the readiness of the force for future missions.

As of Tuesday, more 30,000 Guardsmen are on duty amid the ongoing pandemic. But many thousands more have been impacted by the coronavirus in other ways, including the loss of civilian jobs or canceled drills.

And the number of those Guardsmen called to duty is likely to grow in the future, officials have said, with the Guard bearing much of the load for the pandemic response.

For weeks, the number of Guardsmen called up from the 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia has increased by about 1,000 soldiers and airmen each day. Those Guardsmen are staffing testing sites, constructing alternate care facilities, assisting state agencies in testing analysis, providing communication capabilities and delivering needed food and supplies.

The pandemic has also led to canceled drills or virtual drills held in lieu of in-person gatherings.

Officials have taken steps to ensure that missed in-person training will not hurt a service member’s paycheck in the future.

According to the Pentagon, officials have the authority to waive performance requirements for special and incentive pay for duties such as divers, demolitions experts, paratroopers and pilots, many of whom are currently unable to meet performance requirements through no fault of their own.

And under existing policy, Guardsmen and Reservists who have Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance will not lose their coverage because they are unable to drill or perform annual training due to COVID-19, officials said. But any missed premiums will be deducted in a lump-sum once a service member returns to a pay status.

Officials also said service members will not lose TRICARE Reserve Select during the pandemic, but said monthly premiums will not be waived.

Instead, officials are barred from terminating coverage until 90 days after the COVID-19 emergency has ended. During that time, a service member will need to repay missed premiums to keep coverage.