WASHINGTON – Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema wrote to President Trump expressing her support for the National Guard and its mission fighting the coronavirus pandemic. She also joined over 95 bipartisan and bicameral Members of Congress in calling on administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, for continued support of National Guard servicemembers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Arizona National Guardsmen are serving on the front lines of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic conducting tests, providing personal protective equipment, setting up infection tracking, and caring for coronavirus patients. It is critical the federal government keeps these brave servicemembers active as this crisis demands and ensures they receive the care and benefits they’ve earned,” said Sinema.
In her letters, Sinema specifically called for the administration to address:
- Federal Status: Sinema urged the federal government to keep all National Guard servicemembers supporting the COVID-19 mission on 502(f)(2) status rather than transitioning to State Active Duty (SAD) orders regardless of future FEMA reimbursement. This will ensure benefits commensurate with the work they are performing is available. This will also ensure they are able to continue support to the nation’s effort without uncertainty of status.
- Timing: Sinema asked the federal government to base decisions on needs of the community, as well as progress in battling COVID-19, before ending the use of the National Guard.
- Leave: Sinema asked the federal government to continue to provide National Guard members with flexibility in how they may utilize leave accrued during the COVID-19 response, and ensure necessary federal funding to support the different leave usage options.
- Healthcare: Sinema asked the federal government to ensure the National Guard members activated in support of COVID-19 are provided Transition Assistance Management Program (TAMP) benefits, including access to military healthcare, for 180 days after coming off orders, similar to their Reserve counterparts.
- GI Bill and Retirement Benefits: Sinema underscored her belief that the service of National Guard members during this unprecedented emergency is deserving of the recognition intended by educational and retirement benefit programs in the spirit in which they were created. Sinema urged the federal government to be inclusive of pandemic response affiliated military service to ensure that National Guard personnel are not being inappropriately prevented from accessing the benefits earned by their service.
These concerns were confirmed by Major General Michael McGuire, the Adjutant General for Arizona and the chairman of the National Guard Association of the United States, who called the current end date of National Guard orders “arbitrary and capricious.” According to the Arizona National Guard, 927 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen are currently working in relief efforts to combat COVID-19 in 15 counties and several tribal nations.
Sinema also cosponsored the National Guard COVID-19 Response Stability Act to ensure that all National Guard troops activated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic receive additional benefits and provide states with greater certainty. The bill extends Title 32 authority for all troops activated in response to the crisis until the end of the public health emergency. By doing so, the federal government would continue covering 100 percent of the costs of this activation. As it currently stands, states have to continue requesting support to make sure there isn’t a lapse in authorities or federal funding for the troops on the frontline of this crisis.