Trump Screws National Guard Troops Helping With Pandemic Like Common Hotel Subcontractors
West Virginia National Guard members unload equipment for a hospital in Charleston. US Army National Guard Photo by Edwin L. Wriston

The Trump administration did a good thing, or at least a thing you'd expect any president in any national crisis to do: Back in late March, Donald Trump signed a federal order to deploy more than 40,000 members of the National Guard so the federal government, not the states, would pay for the troops to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. They've been aiding states with all kinds of public health needs, from testing and contact tracing, to doing "deep cleaning" of nursing homes where there have been outbreaks, to helping distribute supplies to hospitals and food banks. That's the sort of increased boots-on-the-ground work the Guard really excels at in a disaster.

The order was originally set to expire at the end of May, but states desperately needed the help, so governors and members of Congress from both parties asked for the order to be extended. Some requests asked for the order to go to the end of the year, others until the fall. Instead, Trump only extended the federal deployment until June 24, a pretty weird date that isn't the end of a month or even a week. And as Politico reports, there's a very simple reason for that: It marks exactly 89 days since the original order. That means the emergency deployment won't reach 90 days, the point at which deployed National Guard members would qualify for early retirement and GI Bill educational benefits. Hell of a thing, huh? Trump couldn't find a way to not pay the troops at all, but his administration at least found a way to make sure they didn't earn any benefits for putting their health at risk for America.

Maybe they'll get a chance to march in a parade for the Great Leader instead.

Politico learned of the ingenious stiff-the-troops strategy from a recording of a May 12 interagency conference call in which a "senior FEMA official" asked for some help in explaining why there'd be a "hard stop" on the deployment, which wouldn't just screw the troops but would also leave already-strapped states trying to fund any continued deployments themselves.

"We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it," the official said.

Top National Guard and other federal officials on the call did not dispute the June 24 cutoff or raise the possibility of an extension.

The problem wasn't that this was a shitty thing to do, you see; it's that it would be difficult to explain without sounding shitty. Let's work on the messaging! Politico identifies the regional FEMA administrator who was likely on the call as Captain Russell "Russ" Webster, but he wouldn't "confirm or deny" it was him.

Politico 'splains that when Guard members are deployed in an emergency under "Title 32," they get federal pay and benefits, although the Guard units remain under the control of the governors. Ending the deployment at 89 days will save the government a few pennies on some of the troops:

Guard members must serve for 20 years to qualify for a pension at age 60. But for every 90 days serving during a federal emergency, Guard members can move up that retirement by three months. Ninety days of service also qualifies members for 40 percent off the tuition at a public college or university.

Oh yes, and there's another nifty downside for the 44 states (and DC) where Guard members are at war with what Trump likes to call "the invisible enemy": Since every Guard member will need to self-quarantine for two weeks before heading home, the effective end of the federal deployment will be in early June. States can keep members of their Guard units active, but that would be very spendy, about "$9 million per month for every 1,000 troops, according to the National Council of State Legislatures." And the state deployment wouldn't count toward any of those federal benefits, either.

Retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, the head of the National Guard Association advocacy group for Guard members, told Politico the June 24 termination date reeks of fuckery, although he said it more dignified-like:

It seemed kind of weird to me. [...] It's a Wednesday. And it also coincides with 89 days of deployment for any soldiers who went on federal status at the beginning. I was getting all kind of calls about it and I said, "It's probably just a coincidence." But in the back of my mind, I know better. They're screwing the National Guard members out of the status they should have.

Then again, nonprofits like the National Guard Association haven't taken a loyalty oath to Donald Trump, so are they really even American?

The White House isn't saying anything about the decision to end the emergency deployment at 89 days, but a spokesperson for the National Guard, Wayne Hall, suggested maybe the date wasn't set in stone: "We're not there yet on the determination. [...] Nobody can say where we'll need to be more than a month down the road." On the other hand, Hall also seemed determined to spin the 89-day deployment as no big deal, pointing out that since the 90-day baseline for benefits is cumulative, maybe some of the Guard members who were just one day short can cash in later.

"If someone's new in the Guard, they won't be able to make that 90 days in one shot," Hall acknowledged. "But if two months from now they're called up for a hurricane or flood, they can make it then. The goal here is not to hurt Guardsmen."

You want a tasted of early retirement or higher education at a discount? Pray for a natural disaster in your state, and then won't you be the lucky ducky! Or maybe we'll have a nice new war, you ever consider that?

Those selfish America haters at the National Guard Association pointed out that for most Guard members, federal deployments are pretty rare, so if the Title 32 order expires June 24, they probably won't ever qualify for the benefits. This is the point at which we should anticipate some patriotic Trump supporter to declare, "Tough tracheostomy, they knew what they were signing up for."

Beyond the screw-the-troops aspect, Politico notes that ending the federal deployment in the next few weeks would also remove tens of thousands of people the states have been depending on for vital help during the pandemic. For instance, in Washington, more than 500 Guard members are doing contact tracing to identify people who've been exposed, a crucial part of preventing new outbreaks. Those troops make up about a third of the state's contact tracing team. And in North Dakota, more than 100 Guard members have been staffing mobile testing sites. Another 30 have been sterilizing long-term care facilities where there have been outbreaks.

If the federal funding ends, many states simply won't be able to continue such deployments, and they may or may not be able to keep up testing and contact-tracing programs. Sure, that might lead to more outbreaks, more hospitalizations, and more deaths. But just think of the money being saved!

[Politico / US Army National Guard photo by Edwin L. Wriston]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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