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Witness Testimony of Al Garver, Executive Director, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States

Chairman Runyan, Ranking Member McNerney, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

As the Executive Director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS), I am here to speak on behalf of the 412,000 soldiers and airmen currently serving in our nation’s National Guard.  In this instance, I am also speaking on behalf of their families, as well as the hundreds of thousands of retired Guardsmen across America.  I hope my testimony might have additional impact due to my 28 years of service—including 8 years on active duty and 20 years in the Guard and Reserve—and that I am still serving today as a Senior Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves at the Pentagon.

When I first learned of this bill last year, I frankly read it in disbelief.  In the past 20 years of my service in the Guard and Reserve, I was completely unaware that there were retired Guardsmen and Reservists who were not considered “veterans” simply because they served their entire period of service without ever having been activated for a qualifying period of federal active duty service. While the actual numbers of Guardsmen who fall into that category may be relatively small, I think it is safe to state it is likely that none of them—right now…today—even know that they are not considered “veterans.”

When my father, a World War II veteran, died in 1996, I was in charge of his funeral arrangements.  I was told by the funeral director what his veterans benefits included.  I was asked if we would like to inter him in a veterans cemetery.  He served for four years on active duty in the U.S. Navy, from 1941 to 1945, and I remember thinking how nice it was that our nation wanted to honor his service in that way.  Now imagine the shock of the family of a retired Guardsmen who served 20-40 years, being told by a funeral director and the Veterans Administration that they would not qualify for those same honors and that their loved one was “technically not a veteran.”  It is difficult to fathom how this loophole has gone on unnoticed and without remedy for so long. 

EANGUS is truly indebted to Congressman Tim Walz, a retired Command Sergeant Major with 24 years of service in the National Guard, for championing this issue and EANGUS is proud to endorse his legislation, H.R. 1025. 

The Guard has evolved over 375 years from a simple volunteer militia, to an operational reserve force that can be activated at both the state and federal level.  This makes for a rather interesting legal framework required to authorize and support a variety of missions.  Everyone on this committee clearly understands the difference between Title 10 status, when the President is in command, and Title 32 status, when a specific state governor exercises command over the Guard.  This difference is not so simple when one takes into account Title 38 and veteran status.  As the federal component of the Guard’s legal structure, Title 10 neatly dovetails into Title 38 and veterans issues, but the same cannot be said between Title 32 and Title 38.  H.R. 1025 bridges the gap between Title 32 and Title 38, by changing the definition of veteran in Title 38, Section 107(A) and by linking veteran status to Title 10 retirement pay for non-regular service. 

During last year’s consideration of H.R. 3787, which was similar legislation sponsored by Congressman Walz in the 111th Congress, the Congressional Budget Office officially stated:

“Under H.R. 3787, those honorary veterans would not be eligible for additional benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs based on this new status.  Thus, CBO estimates that the bill would have no budgetary impact. Enacting H.R. 3787 would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.”

A similar endorsement was made by the Department of Veterans Affairs and HR 3787 moved easily through the House, but languished in the Senate at the end of last year.  H.R. 1025 was carefully drafted to ensure that this broader definition of the term veteran would not be applicable for purposes of compensation; for purposes of dependency and indemnity compensation; or for purposes of hospital, nursing home, domiciliary and medical care.  If enacted into law, this bill will be at NO COST to the nation.   Let me emphasize that this issue of bestowing veteran status is a matter of honor, nothing more…nothing less. 

This year, the Senate companion bill to H.R. 1025, S. 491, was introduced by Senator Mark Pryor in March, and the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently held a hearing on the bill on June 8th.  With movement on both the House and Senate versions, I am optimistic that both chambers of Congress can advance this worthy legislation before the end of the year, and hopefully in time for Veterans Day on November 11th. 

The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States respectfully requests that the Subcommittee favorably report the Honor America’s Guard Reserve Retirees Act of 2011 to the full House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and I look forward to your questions.