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Witness Testimony of Colonel Robert F. Norton, USA (Ret.), Deputy Director of Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America

CHAIRMAN RUNYAN, RANKING MEMBER TITUS AND DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE, on behalf of the over 380,000 members of The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), I am pleased to present the Association’s views on selected bills that are under consideration at today’s hearing. 

 

MOAA does not receive any grants or contracts from the federal government.

 

H.R. 679, the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act of 2013.  

H.R. 679 (Reps. Walz, D-MN and Runyan, R-NJ) would honor as a veteran any retired

member of the National Guard or Reserves entitled to retired pay for nonregular (reserve)

service in the Armed Forces of the United States.

 

National Guard and Reserve members who complete a full Guard or Reserve career and are receiving or entitled to a military pension, government health care and certain earned veterans’ benefits under Title 38 are not “veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States,” in the absence of a qualifying period of active duty.

 

This strange situation exists because the definitions in Title 38 limit the term “veteran” only to servicemembers who have performed duty on active duty (Title 10) orders. 

 

National Guard members who served on military duty orders (other than Title 10) at Ground Zero in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, the BP oil spill catastrophe off the Gulf Coast, or conducted security operations on our Southwest border, and subsequently retire from the National Guard or Reserve are not deemed to be veterans under the law unless at some point they had served on Title 10 orders.

 

Throughout the Cold War and continuing in practice today, Reservists may perform operational duty or support operational forces on 29 different sets of orders.  Most of these duty order categories reflect Service funding and accounting protocols, but unless the orders purposely are issued under Title 10, they do not count towards recognition of career reservists as veterans of our Armed Forces. 

 

Ironically, these career reservists earn specified veterans’ benefits, but they can’t claim that they are veterans.

 

For these career volunteers who have served and sacrificed for decades in uniform, it is deeply embarrassing that they are not authorized to stand and be recognized as veterans during Veterans Day and other patriotic celebrations.

 

MOAA is grateful to the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the full House of Representatives for twice passing enabling legislation on this issue. 

 

H.R. 679 would establish that National Guard and Reserve members who are entitled to a non-regular retirement under Chapter 1223 of 10 USC and who were never called to active federal service during their careers are veterans of the Armed Forces.  The legislation expressly prohibits the award of any new or unearned veterans’ benefits and is cost-neutral.

 

A retired New York Army National Guard Master Sergeant recently responded to an article on this issue in Military Update, a syndicated column on military issues by Tom Philpott.  The Master Sergeant wrote: “I served 35 years as a Guardsman and am told I am not a veteran.  I did two weeks at Ground Zero and many tours in Germany doing logistics for the war in Iraq. Yet I am still not a veteran.”  On his behalf and on behalf of tens of thousands of other Guard and Reserve service members, MOAA urges passage of H.R. 679.

 

 MOAA strongly supports H.R. 679 to establish that career Reservists eligible for or in receipt of military retired pay (at age 60), government health care and certain earned veterans benefits, but who never served under active duty orders are “veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States.”

 

An Addendum to this Statement includes a Letter of support from The Military Coalition and Frequently Asked Questions about the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act.

 

H.R. 569, Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013.  H.R. 569 (Reps. Runyan and Titus, D-NV) would adjust veterans’ compensation, pension, survivors’ Dependency and Indemnity compensation and related benefits by the same percentage as the annual adjustment of Social Security benefits.  The adjusted rates would become effective on 1 December 2013 and reflected in payouts on 1 January 2014.  MOAA strongly supports H.R. 569.

 

H.R. 570, The American Heroes COLA Act.  H.R. 570 (Reps. Runyan and Titus) would authorize automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments each year in the rates of disability compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors of certain service-connected disabled veterans.  The bill would provide for an automatic adjustment to the benefits described here whenever there is an increase in benefits payable for Social Security annuitants.  MOAA supports H.R. 570.

 

H.R. 602, Veterans 2d Amendment Protection Act.  H.R. 602 (Rep. Jeff Miller, R-FL) would prohibit the VA from denying the right of a veteran deemed mentally incompetent or incapacitated from receiving or carrying firearms without a court order that such a person is a danger to himself / herself or others.  MOAA has no position on H.R. 602.  

 

H.R. 671, Ruth Moore Act of 2013.  H.R. 671 (Rep. Pingree, D-ME) would revise policy for adjudicating service-connection for veterans with a mental health condition that was caused or aggravated by military sexual trauma during active duty.  The bill would require the VA to accept as sufficient proof of service-connection a diagnosis by a mental health professional together with satisfactory lay or other evidence of military sexual trauma and an opinion by the mental health professional that such condition is related to such trauma, if consistent with the circumstances, conditions, or hardships of the veteran’s service, event when there is no official record of such incurrence or aggravation in such service, and for other purposes.  MOAA strongly supports H.R. 671.

 

H.R. 733, Access to Veterans Benefits Improvement Act.  H.R. 733 (Reps. Runyan and Walz) would authorize employees of Members of Congress or of a state or local governmental agency assisting veterans to have access to case-tracking information to assist them with their claims.  Access would include access to medical records.   The bill would prohibit the employee from modifying the data in the case-tracking system and require employees to complete certification training on privacy issues before gaining access to veterans’ records.  MOAA is not chartered by the VA to represent veterans’ claims and therefore takes no position on the legislation.

H.R. 894, a bill to improve the supervision of fiduciaries of veterans.  H.R. 894 (Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH) would revise the laws governing the appointment, supervision, removal and re-appointment of fiduciaries by the VA to administer benefits for certain disabled veterans.   The bill establishes procedures for the appointment of temporary fiduciaries and for the pre-designation of a fiduciary.  Among other purposes, the legislation requires (under current law, permits) a fiduciary to file an annual accounting of the administration of beneficiary benefits; requires the VA to conduct annual random audits of fiduciaries who receive a commission for such service; and, requires fiduciary repayment of misused benefits.

The legislation grew out of the need to update VA fiduciary rules and regulations in the best interest of catastrophically disabled wounded warriors from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. MOAA supports H.R. 894.

 

H.R. 1405, a bill to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include an appeals form in any notice of decision issued for the denial of a benefit sought.  H.R. 1405 (Reps. Titus and Runyan) would take effect on the date of enactment.  At this time, MOAA is not chartered by the VA to represent veterans’ claims and takes no position on the legislation.

Conclusion

The Military Officers Association of America is grateful to the leadership and members of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Veterans for your commitment to our nation’s veterans and their survivors.

Addenda: 1. Letter from The Military Coalition, 13 March 2013, re: H.R. 679.  2.  Frequently Asked Questions re the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act.

 

 

March 14, 2013

 

The Honorable Tim Walz

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC  20515

 

Dear Congressman Walz:

 

The Military Coalition, a consortium of uniformed services and veterans associations representing more than 5.5 million current and former service members and their families and survivors, writes to thank you for your leadership in introducing HR 679, the “Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act” that would grant veteran status to members of the Reserve Components who served a career of 20 years or more and are military retirees, but who through no fault of their own are not recognized by our government as “veterans.”

 

The individuals covered by your legislation have already earned most of the benefits granted to veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and yet they do not have the right to call themselves veterans because their service did not include sufficient duty under Title 10 orders.  Because of this they feel dishonored by their government.  Your legislation simply authorizes them to be honored as “veterans of the Armed Forces” but prohibits the award of any new benefit.

 

The “Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act” is a practical way to honor the vital role members of the Reserve Components have had in defending our nation throughout long careers of service and sacrifice.  And it can be done at no-cost to the American tax-payer because of your legislation.

 

We look forward to the early passage of your bill in the House of Representatives for the third time and we are hopeful both chambers of Congress will take favorable action so we can see it signed into law this year.

 

You have been the champion for this bill in the House and we are grateful.  We know you understand the importance of the honor of being recognized as a veteran and we sincerely appreciate your steadfast support and leadership on this issue that is very important to so many members of the National Guard and Reserve.

 

 

The Military Coalition

(Signatures enclosed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TMC letter dated 14 March 2013 in support of H.R. 679

Honor America Guard-Reserve Retirees Act

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What’s the purpose of this legislation?  A. To honor certain career Guard and Reserve service men and women as “veterans of the Armed Forces.”  Extract of the VFW’s testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on 8 June 2011: “The VFW strongly supports this legislation, which would give the men and women who choose to serve our nation in the Reserve component the recognition that their service demands. Many who serve in the Guard and Reserve are in positions that support the deployments of their active duty comrades to make sure the unit is fully prepared when called upon. Unfortunately, some of these men and women serve 20 years and are entitled to retirement pay, TRICARE, and other benefits, but are not considered a veteran according to the letter of the law. . .  
In recent years, Congress has enhanced material benefits to the members of the Guard and Reserve and this bill does not seek to build upon those provisions; it simply seeks to bestow honor upon the men and women of the Guard and Reserve to whom it is due.”
[emphasis added]

Q. Who will this legislation cover?  A. Career National Guard and Reserve service men and women who are entitled to a military retirement (at age 60) but never served on active duty orders during their careers.   Under the law, only a member of the Armed Forces who has qualifying active duty service is a “veteran of the Armed Forces” as set out in Title 38. 

Q. What qualifies a military member, including Reservists, as a “veteran”?  A.  A period of qualifying active duty service.  In Title 38, a veteran is defined as a “person who served in the active military, naval or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” (Section 101(2), 38 USC).    “Active military, naval, or air service” means “active duty”; or any period of active duty for training (ADT) or inactive duty for training (IDT) – often called “drill duty” -- during which a service person was disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty (Section 101(24)(A)(B)(C).

Q. Why is this legislation important?

A. For three reasons.  First, honor.  Honor is important to those who have volunteered to serve the nation in uniform.  Second, for decades Guard and Reserve service men and women have performed military missions at home and overseas but because of accounting technicalities -- funding sources and duty codes – their military missions were not considered valid active duty work; i.e., they performed the mission, but the orders did not credit the work as active duty.   Thus, their very real contributions to the national security have been de-valued and dishonored leaving them in a no-man’s land of “non-veteran” status.  Third, the bill simply provides statutory and public recognition that a full career of service in uniform qualifies a person with recognition as a veteran.   Career reservists have earned specific military retirement and veterans’ benefits but technically are excluded from being recognized as veterans under the law.

Q. Do National Guard and Reserve service members qualify for any veterans’ benefits even if they’ve never been called up?    A. Yes.  Reserve military service opens eligibility to certain benefits provided the member meets the specific criteria established in law.  The reality is that reservists already can qualify for certain veterans’ benefits, such as: 

  • Educational benefits under Chapter 1606, 10 USC for an initial enlistment of 6 years in the Selected Reserve
  • VA-backed home mortgage loans upon completion of 6 years’ reserve service
  • Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) managed by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs while serving in the National Guard or Reserve
  • Burial in a national cemetery if qualified for a reserve retirement at age 60

Ironically, however, career reservists who have earned specified veterans’ benefits but never served on active duty orders are not “veterans of the Armed Forces.”

Q. Are there any new benefits conferred by this legislation?  A. No.  The bill confers no benefits.  The Congressional Budget Office has scored the bill as cost-neutral.

Q. Could the bill become a “nose under the tent” to win unearned veterans’ benefits?

A. The language of the bill specifically precludes new or unearned veterans’ benefits.  “Any person who is entitled under chapter 1223 of title 10 to retired pay for nonregular service or, but for age, would be entitled under such chapter to retired pay for nonregular service shall be honored as a veteran but shall not be entitled to any benefit by reason of this section. [emphasis added]

(2) CLERICAL AMENDMENT- The table of sections at the beginning of such chapter is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 107 the following new item:

`107A. Honoring as veterans certain persons who performed service in the reserve components.'.

(b) Clarification Regarding Benefits- No person may receive any benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs solely by reason of section 107A of title 38, United States Code, as added by subsection (a)”. [emphasis added]

Q. Why do military Reservists perform military missions on non-active duty orders?

A. During the Cold War (1945-1989), approximately 29 separate types of orders  were created for the Guard and Reserve. These categories reflect funding sources and the types of duty performed, notwithstanding that some of these orders resulted in the performance of  “real world” military missions.   The DoD Comprehensive Review of the Future Role of the Reserve Component (April 2011) recommended a simpler framework of reserve duty orders and active duty orders, boiling down the 29 types of orders to about six.  The point is that orders to carry out a military mission or in direct support of a mission should usually be accounted for as an active duty mission and credited accordingly.  Unfortunately, some military missions are still conducted on ADT or IDT orders, denying some Reservists recognition as veterans.

Q. How can an individual serve for 20 years in the National Guard or Reserve without having served on active duty?

A. Since World War II, many Guard and Reserve service men and women have performed military missions – above and beyond their training – on military orders that do not specify Title 10 “active duty”.  

For example, Naval Reserve, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members often flew overseas missions on other-than-Title 10 orders.    The Air National Guard had full responsibility for flying missions to Howard Air Force Base in Panama, but performed such missions on non-active duty orders.

National Guard units serving along the southern U.S. border performing a homeland security mission do not serve on Title 10 orders.  National Guard units who rushed to New York City in response to the Sept. 11, 2001  attacks, or to New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina performed military missions on non-active duty orders.

Other Guard and Reserve members prepare Guard and Reserve formations for deployment but do not themselves deploy.

And finally, there are those who have served full careers who were never activated because of the particular military specialty they performed.

Over a 20 or more year career in traditional drill status a member of the Reserve Components serves at least two years and one month on military duty.  But the classification of such duty as either ADT or IDT precludes veteran status.

Q. Don’t National Guard and Reserve members become veterans after completing their initial active duty service commitment – basic training or “boot camp” – and military skill training?  A. No.  National Guard and Reserve initial entry training is performed under active duty training (ADT) orders.  Only in the case of a disability incurred on ADT or IDT orders would a Reservist be declared a veteran.

Q. If this issue is so important to career Reservists, why hasn’t it come up before? 

A.  Since World War II, with the exception of the Korean War, substantial numbers of reservists rarely were called up to Federal Active duty until Gulf War I (1990) and later.   Most career reserve members were reluctant to challenge accepted wisdom on this issue.  With the creation of the “Total Force Policy” (1972), the Guard and Reserve were gradually integrated into the operational force.  The first large-scale test was Gulf War I followed by routine activations in that decade for stability operations in Kosovo and Bosnia.   Today, Guard and Reserve members are a sustaining element of the operating force and participate in every major military mission at home and overseas.  Yet, some of these missions continue to be conducted on non-active duty orders and reservists whose mission is to prepare other troops for deployment can never be credited as veterans.  In short, the current policy shortchanges reservists’ contribution to the national security and undermines the vision of the Guard and Reserve as an operational force.

Q. How many career Guard-Reserve members are affected by this legislation?  A.  Based on DoD data (2011), the Congressional Budget Office estimated that approximately 288,000 career reservists would become veterans (with no additional benefits) with enactment of  the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act.

 

 

                                                                                   

 

 

 

Biography of Robert F. Norton, COL, USA (Ret.)

Deputy Director, Government Relations

 

Bob Norton joined the MOAA Government Relations team in 1997, specializing in National Guard / Reserve, veterans’ benefits and VA health care issues.  He co-chairs The Military Coalition’s (TMC) Veterans’ Committee and is MOAA’s representative to TMC’s Guard and Reserve Committee.  In 2000, Bob helped found the Partnership for Veterans Education, a consortium of TMC, higher education associations, and other veterans groups that advocates for the GI Bill.   Bob served on the statutory Veterans Advisory Committee on Education from 2004-2008. 

 

Bob entered the Army in 1966 and was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in August 1967. He served in South Vietnam (1968-1969) as a civil affairs platoon leader.  He transferred to the U.S. Army Reserve in 1969.

 

Colonel Norton volunteered for full-time active duty in 1978.  He served in various assignments on the Army Staff and the office of the Secretary of the Army specializing in Reserve manpower and personnel policy matters.

 

Bob served two tours in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, first as a personnel policy officer (1982-1985) and then as the Senior Military Assistant to the Assistant Secretary (1989-1994).  Reserve Affairs oversaw the call-up of more than 250,000 members of the Guard / Reserve in the first Gulf War.  Colonel Norton retired in 1995 and joined the MOAA Government Relations staff in 1997.

 

Colonel Norton holds a B.A. from Niagara University and an M.S.Ed. from Canisius College.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the Army War College, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government senior officials in national security course.

 

His military awards include the Legion of Merit, Defense Superior Service Medal, Bronze Star, Vietnam Service Medal, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal.