OUR VIEW: Guard, Reserve retirees are also veterans

They attend the same schooling as active-duty servicemen and women. They undergo the same rigors of training in their mission either at home or overseas. They don the uniform ready to face any adversity that comes their way.

Yet, their government does not consider them veterans because they served most of their time in either the National Guard or Reserves, not with an active-duty unit during peacetime or in a contingency operation such as a deployment to the Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan to fight an enemy.

The current law is direct: Guardsmen and reservists may call themselves veterans as long as they served on federal active-duty for other than training regardless of their total years in uniform. Your citizen-soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines are perplexed by the second-class treatment since most of them have spent more days in a uniform than most servicemen and women who signed up for only one enlistment.

For the young men and women who spend two years on active duty, they have each accumulated 720 consecutive days in the military.

Take reservists or guardsmen, for example, who have not been able to serve on a deployment to a war zone. Including days for any schooling, drills and annual training, they put in an average of 63 days each year. Multiply that figure by 20 years, and reservists have put in 1,260 days of duty or the equivalent of almost three-and-a-half years of full-time duty.

The federal government doesn’t recognize full-time guardsmen and reservists who put on the uniform every day to work in an Active Guard and Reserve status. Although soldiers and airmen serve for 20 years, Uncle Sam does not consider them veterans.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., led an attempt in the Senate several years ago to designate Guard and Reserve retirees as veterans, but then former Sen. Jim Webb, a decorated Vietnam Navy veteran, shot down the bill in committee. Other senators who had military service, though, wanted to see the legislation passed. Both Reid and junior Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who fought for this bill when he served in the House, are behind passage. Many active duty personnel with whom I have spoken are surprised and shocked that retired reservists do not qualify as veterans.

Currently, another attempt to grant veteran’s status to retired guardsmen and reservists was resurrected in the House of Representatives at the end of October with the Honor America’s Guard-Retirees Act. For many years now, both a majority of congressmen and U.S. senators have supported the National Guard Bureau’s proposal to designate guardsmen and reservists who have served for 20 or more years as veterans.

Nothing else comes with the designation. The caveat is that retired guardsmen and reservists will not receive any Veterans Administration services that are provided to retired active-duty servicemen and women.

They want to be treated fairly and recognized for their service to their country.

Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz, a senior enlisted member of the National Guard for 24 years, is championing this crusade as is Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei, himself an Army veteran. Walz’s verbage in H.R. 679, which unanimously passed by voice vote, is clear:

“I would guess that the vast majority of Americans and maybe even members of this body don’t recognize that you can serve 20 years doing that, and if you are not called to a specific ‘title X’ service, you cannot be considered a veteran. You can go to the VA hospital, you can go use the GI Bill, you can be buried in a veterans’ cemetery, but you are technically a military retiree.”

Furthermore, Walz said the retirees should not be required to explain they are technically not a veteran although many states and those who either served or are serving in the armed forces consider their National Guard and Reserve brothers and sisters as veterans. Walz said the legislation corrects this slight.

“It doesn’t add any cost, and it does the right thing. So it is not an added benefit — which was earned, by the way. It simply corrects this, puts it in line, and honors. If you serve 20 or more years in uniform, you stand ready, you train people who went to war, we are going to give you the dignity and the honor of calling you a veteran.”

Steve Ranson is editor of the LVN.


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