GI Bill applies differently to Guard

By Tom Philpott: CNJ columnist

Because Sgt. 1st Class Tom Simpson of the Maryland Army National Guard has served on active duty almost continually since the 9/11 attacks, he believed he had earned Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and would be able to transfer them to his 18-year-old daughter who is attending college this fall.

But when full details of the new GI Bill were released in early May, Simpson got a jolt. He isn’t eligible. So his daughter has had to pass on her first choice, New York University, for a college costing $20,000 less a year.

Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Bill Scully believed until just two weeks ago that his final two years on active duty, before he retired in November 2003, qualified him for 80 percent of the new GI Bill benefit.

Scully too was mistaken, and he has canceled plans to continue to pursue a degree in religious studies online through Liberty University.

Like Simpson and Scully, thousands of National Guard members will soon discover, if they haven’t already, that they are the victims, at least temporarily, of a flaw in the new GI Bill. It limits eligibility to Guard members based on what federal law was used to order them to active duty.

Those activated under Title 10 to serve under the command and control of the president for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are eligible for the new GI Bill after 90 days’ deployed. If they serve 36 cumulative months under Title 10, after Sept. 11, 2001, they get full GI bill benefits.

But the time that Guard members have spent activated under Title 32 — responding to domestic emergencies or to homeland security missions, or serving fulltime under the Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) program — will not count toward Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility.

Excluded are Guard members called up to protect the homeland during Operation Noble Eagle after the 9/11 attacks, as well as Guard members activated to respond to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and 6,000 called up for Operation Jump Start to bolster border security with Mexico in 2007-2008.

“Title 32 active duty status means they are on active duty, paid by the federal government but they still technically come under the command and control of the governor,” said Peter Duffy, deputy legislative director of the National Guard Association of the United States. “Much of what the Guard does domestically and even some overseas tours are done on Title 32 status. And although it takes members away from families, and it involves some risk, and it has them doing what counterparts in the active force are doing domestically, it still doesn’t give them (GI Bill) benefits. It’s a big, big gap.”

The original draft of a proposed GI Bill last year excluded all reserve components members. During hurried negotiations to find a more acceptable bill, Congress left out Title 32 Guard members. A Defense official confirmed the department plans to offer a legislative fix with its 2011 budget.

Data from the Army National Guard and Air National Guard show that 75,098 Army Guard members and 2,460 Air Guard members will not be entitled to the new GI Bill without a legislative fix, according to the Government Accountability Office.