Retired National Guardsmen and Reservists will be granted veteran status for the first time, following Presidential approval of a much-haggled bill. President Barack Obama signed the provision into law Friday, as part of a larger package on veterans’ benefits.
Until now, Guard and Reserve personnel were considered veterans only if they served in a federalized capacity for more than 179 days other than training. Even a reservist who attended regular training and drill for two decades, but never was federalized, could not claim to be a veteran. Now, Guard and Reserve members will be recognized as veterans if they serve honorably for 20 years.
The previous definition was long outdated, said retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association of the United States. “Many of those affected underwent arduous, even dangerous, training,” Hargett said in a statement. “They helped win the Cold War. Others worked in direct support of those who did deploy.”
And yet, Hargett said, the nation told them they were not veterans.
The status change does not provide an increase in veterans’ benefits. It does, however, offer pride of identity.
“For so long, Guard and Reservists have known they have served, but they haven’t known if they can call themselves veterans,” John Goheen, NGAUS spokesman, told American Media Institute. “For certain members, this eliminates the doubt.”
The revised definition is welcomed even by those who would qualify as a veteran under the previous definition.
“It’s long overdue,” said Chad Longell, an Army Reserve sergeant who has deployed multiple times, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s a recognition by Congress of the commitment of the Guard and Reserve and the role we have played in the defense of the Republic.”
The new definition adds a measure of cache to troops who have found themselves on the receiving end of inter-component derision.
Active duty forces traditionally have referred to Guard and Reservists as “weekend warriors,” because they live civilian lives and serve one weekend a month for drill, plus additional time for annual training.
The issue came to the fore in 2014, when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters that the Guard “capabilities are not interchangeable” with those of the active duty Army. The comment spawned a debate over a number of issues, including whether Odierno had insulted the Guard.
The new legislation takes a step toward removing perceived insults.
“Anyone who commits for 20 years to be ready to put their lives on the line for our country deserves the recognition of being called a veteran,” Longell said.
The changes were approved in both the House and the Senate last year, Goheen said, but the two chambers did not use the same language in their respective bills.
“They worked it out and came up with a version everyone agreed on,” Goheen said. “With no added cost to the government.”
The measure was contained within the Miller-Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Act, a comprehensive document that amends title 38 of the United States Code, pertaining to veterans’ benefits.