Trump to extend National Guard’s COVID-19 mission after bipartisan pressure

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3 mins read

The president faced pressure from politicians and defense officials.

May 29, 2020, 12:30 AM

6 min read

President Donald Trump will the use of roughly 46,000 National Guardsmen currently helping states across the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic into mid-August.

tweeted his decision to lengthen the National Guard’s Title 32 orders on Thursday after defense officials said their services would likely be needed further into the summer and politicians complained that some guardsmen would narrowly miss out on educational and retirement benefits under the original June 24 cutoff.

For the guardsmen activated late March, the June 24 end date would have put them one day short of the 90 days needed to receive a percentage of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits and to collect retirement pay three months before turning 60 years old, as is standard.

In his tweet, Trump said he would extend the orders this week.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had previously advocated Trump continue the National Guard’s assignments, so long as they were still serving a purpose.

“If they have a valid mission assignment verified by FEMA, my view is we should extend those tours of duty,” Esper said last week. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

On Thursday, Esper tweeted his approval of Trump’s decision, offering his “full support.”

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Joseph Lengyel also supported Trump’s decision.

“I was happy to see the tweet,” Lengyel said, adding, “It’s just bad optics and business to cut people off at the 89th day.”

Lengyel also said the work of the guardsmen would likely be needed longer anyway.

“There is widespread recognition that the requirement to keep National Guard members on duty to fight this virus exists well beyond the 24th of June,” he said.

Last week a bipartisan group of 125 members of Congress ranging from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal signed a letter to Trump, Esper and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor imploring them extend benefits to the National Guardsmen responding to the crisis.

“We encourage you 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,” the letter read.

Since March, members of the National Guard have helped states set up and run coronavirus testing sites, deliver vital food and equipment, and in some cases have given direct care to infected citizens.

ABC News’ Elizabeth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

What to know about the coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map
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