Several hundred reservists were hoping that their recent deployment to Honduras would help boost their time towards receiving military benefits that active-duty personnel enjoy, but came home to find out a little-known legal authority has taken it from them.
To qualify for the post 9/11 GI bill, reservist service members have to accrue a certain amount of active duty time. Many volunteer to deploy to achieve those results faster since their regular commitment is one weekend a month and two weeks a year of active duty.
However, many reservists didn’t know that 12304b changed the rules; the Pentagon is now authorized to call up reservists and National Guard members for active duty service without ever having to provide them with the same benefits given to active duty service members.
Many reservists who signed up for the promise of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education assistance, early retirement and health insurance and are now feeling robbed, according to the Register Guard.
One of the Marine reservists who returned to Camp Lejeune last month said he was expecting to have earned 50 percent of his GI bill by the time he returned.
22-year-old Cpl. William Iverson, of Eugene, Oregon, who is studying economics at the University of Oregon, was expecting $5,678 a year in tuition and fees, plus $765 a month in housing allowance and $500 a year for books.
When he got home, he found out he had earned nothing towards the GI Bill.
The law that prevented him and other reservists from these benefits was tucked into the Defense Department’s $662 billion budget authorization bill for fiscal 2012.
Section 12304b falls under Section 12304 of the bill, which allows the president to activate up to 230,000 reservists without a congressional emergency declaration.
12304b allows up to 60,000 members from the military reserve to be activated at a time without providing them the same benefits as active duty.
For the Marines who returned from their deployment to Honduras last month, this is exactly what happened.
“Use of 12304b is authorized under U.S. Code, Title 10, ‘when the secretary of a military department determines that it is necessary to augment the active forces for a preplanned mission in support of a combatant command,’” Maj. Clark Carpenter of the Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication wrote in an email to the Gazette-Times.
“The deployment of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Southern Command-16 was such a mission. Because of this, the decision was made to leverage the reserve component to support Marine Corps Forces South. U.S. Code, Title 10, dictates the use of 12304b in these situations.”
A report by Stars and Stripes estimates 12304b has been invoked 4,700 times by all the branches of the military since 2014.
The Marine Corps admitted to telling the Marines, who deployed to Honduras, in their pre-deployment briefings that they would be earning credit towards their GI Bill benefits.
“Marine reservists were informed about benefits prior to deployment based on a Marine Administrative Message published in 2014,” Gen. Douglas Meyer, head of the Military Policy Branch, Manpower Policy Division, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told the Gazette-Times in an email.
“Unfortunately, this message incorrectly stated that reservists involuntarily activated under authorization 12304b were eligible to receive Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits. A correction has been issued and published in a subsequent message.”
While Congress seemingly approved this change to reduce deployment costs it could potentially have an effect on reserve recruiting and retention.
There have been some attempts to restore these benefits to service members by the Senate but none of the measures have made it to a vote.
The National Guard 12304b Benefits Parity Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the Veterans First Act, sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia were introduced earlier this year.
It’s not clear if funding will be made available to cover the benefits.
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