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New Laws Expand Benefits to Guardsmen and Their Families

Washington Report

(Edited Feb. 2 with an updated description of the National Guard and Reserve maternity program). 

Recently enacted legislation creates some new National Guard benefits and makes more Guardsmen and their families eligible for some existing veterans’ programs.

One of the new benefits is paid maternity leave for drill-status women in both the Guard and Reserve. The intent is to provide excused absences with pay and retirement points for up to three months of unit training assemblies.

It is essentially the Guard and Reserve equivalent of what women on active duty have had after pregnancy and childbirth since 2016.

Also included in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act is six-months of transitional medical coverage for Guardsmen and their families after Title 32 coronavirus response missions.

Guardsmen have long received transitional coverage after overseas assignments to cover any lingering medical issues but never after a domestic mission.

NGAUS pushed hard for both benefits.

The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020, which was signed by the president last week, expands some existing benefits to more Guardsmen and their families.

The association was also a force behind this legislation, assisting the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees with its formulation.

It credits for the first time service under Title 32 (federally funded but under state control) toward Department of Veterans Affairs home loans. The threshold for the program is 90 cumulative days on Title 32 with at least one period of 30 consecutive days.

Until last week, Guardsmen qualified for no-money-down, VA-guaranteed mortgage only if they had mobilized under Title 10 for 90 consecutive days or had six years of total service.

Another provision expands eligibility for the Fry Scholarship for the children and spouses of troops who died on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as a result of their military service.

The language removes the requirement that the death occurred while on federal active duty. This means deaths that occur on weekend drills and other training apply. So, too, do those that result from a service-connected disability.

The new law also provides a presumption of service-connection for military members who contract the coronavirus within 14 days of the completion of duty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it expands counseling for military sexual trauma at VA facilities to former Guardsmen and Reservists, who previously only received such counseling if they were current members of the Guard or Reserve.

The same provision also allows the VA to treat physical health conditions arising from MST, not just mental health conditions.

Additional language extends federal employment protections and reemployment rights to Guardsmen who serve at least 14 days of state active duty or who are mobilized to respond to a national emergency or natural disaster.

Previously, there were no federal job protections for state active duty.

The legislation honors a former chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the outgoing ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, left the Senate in 2018 for health reasons. Roe, a Republican from Tennessee, did not seek reelection to the House last year.