Bonuses, Education Benefits Increased for Reserve, Guard
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2004 Increased education benefits and more flexibility in awarding bonuses are among the quality-of-life improvements targeting National Guard and Reserve servicemembers in the 2005 National Defense Authorization Act.
The act, signed by President Bush Oct. 28, also provides for changes in how guardsmen and reservists are mobilized and deployed.
"I am encouraged that the (Defense) Department, working with Congress, has enacted a number of provisions that will fundamentally change the nature of Guard and Reserve service," said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall Nov. 4.
During an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Hall explained many changes contained in the authorization act were vital to bring reserve component benefits more in line with active duty benefits, particularly since troops from both components are generally serving side by side in combat zones.
"We had a much different benefit structure for the Guard and Reserve and active duty, which was all right when you're not mobilized and when you're in a drilling status," Hall said. "But when you are mobilized and you're serving in the foxhole alongside your active duty brethren, we have to ask, 'Are the benefits the very same?' And they haven't been."
One significant change concerns various types of bonuses and proficiency pay. The act generally doubles or triples reserve component bonuses, bringing them closer to active duty amounts. It allows re-enlistment bonuses to be paid more than once and to be paid in a lump sum.
The act also covers an accession/affiliation bonus of up to $6,000 for reserve officers, changes rules concerning foreign-language proficiency pay, and adds a $2,000 bonus for reserve component members who convert to a critical skill.
In the past, education benefits for reserve component troops were considerably below those for active duty troops, even when RC servicemembers were activated for extended periods. That is now changed, based on how long a reserve member is activated, Hall explained.
Members who have been activated more than 90 consecutive days will now receive 40 percent of the active duty monthly rate under the Montgomery G.I. Bill, or $401 a month for those attending school full time.
The rate goes up to $602, 60 percent of the active duty rate, for those activated more than one year. For those reserve component members activated at least two years, the rate jumps to 80 percent of the active duty rate, or $803 per month. Active duty servicemembers must generally serve at least a four-year enlistment to earn full benefits under the Montgomery G.I. Bill.
Hall mentioned that he hopes to see education benefits increase also for those drilling reservists who aren't activated.
Other significant changes contained in this year's authorization act concern how reserve component troops are mobilized and how they're managed while they are mobilized.
The act now allows the military services to mobilize their RC members for training. In the past, a common scenario was to activate guardsmen or reservists, send them away from home for training and then deploy them to an operational mission.
"Well, in many cases what that involves is that the mobilization process is not necessarily just 12 months boots on the ground," Hall explained. "It might extend up to 18 months. And, of course, that's time in which guardsmen and reservists are away from their families and employers."
New rules contained in the authorization act allow RC members to be activated just for training, then demobilized until they're needed for operational missions.
"What we hope to do is cut down the total amount of mobilization because we can do training when it's available, when the guardsman wants it and when their employer wants it," Hall said. "That is a huge change that I think will help the mobilization process. I think it's welcomed by our components, and it's welcomed by the individual guardsmen and reservists."
This authorization act also eliminates the so-called "180-day rule." Under previous accounting guidelines, reserve component servicemembers who were mobilized for more than 179 days had to be counted against active duty statistics, Hall explained. This particularly caused problems in terms of end- strength goals and ceilings on specific pay grades.
Hall said the new rules better satisfy the needs of the reserve component and the active duty services. "The rules we had were good for another time and another place," he said. "But this is transformational; it's more integration and a great step forward."