Amid growing furor over a FEMA directive that would end orders for tens of thousands of Guard troops just shy of the 90 days needed to make them eligible for federal benefits, the president said Thursday that he'll personally secure an extension for them.
"The men and women of the National Guard have been doing a great job fighting the CoronaVirus," President Donald Trump said in a tweet. "This week, I will extend their Title 32 orders through mid-August, so they can continue to help States succeed in their response and recovery efforts."
Title 32 orders are for full-time National Guard duty, as distinct from state orders, in which troops remain under the purview of the governor, and Title 10 active-duty orders, in which troops are federalized under the president and can be deployed outside the U.S. Under Title 32 orders, Guard members are eligible for federal pay, but do not accrue certain benefits, including use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and an accelerated retirement schedule, until they accumulate 90 days' active service.
A current order from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is set to end the activation period for the more than 40,000 Guard troops called up to assist with coronavirus response on June 24. That "hard stop" would leave Guard members one day shy of qualifying for federal education and retirement benefits.
Earlier this month, Rep. Max Rose, a New York Democrat and Army National Guard captain, decried the move as "heartless," saying it not only hurt the Guard members serving the nation, but also left the nation vulnerable with work still to be done.
On May 22, Defense Secretary Mark Esper offered his own support for extending the orders if work remained for Guard members to complete. The same day, 129 members of Congress, included representatives from both parties, wrote to Esper and FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor calling for an extension of orders.
In his tweet, Trump did not specify precisely when he'll order the extension.
On Thursday, governors from 42 states signed on to a letter from the National Governors Association saying the Guard was needed to assist with pandemic recovery.
"Given the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, the virus has affected each state and territory in a different way, and at different times," the letter stated. "As states and territories move toward recovery and reopening, our National Guard will be critical in supporting operations such as testing, distribution of personal protective equipment, supply and food chain support, augmenting staff at nursing homes, and supporting warehouse operations."
A spokeswoman for the National Guard Bureau, April Cunningham, referred specific queries to the White House.
"The National Guard remains committed to its service in support of the fight against COVID-19 and will remain in that fight as long as we are needed," she said in a statement provided to Military.com. "Our nation is looking to the National Guard to help and we will not let them down."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @HopeSeck.