MADISON, Wis. --
Did you know that nearly all "quality of life" enhancements we receive as military members come from Congress not the Department of Defense (DoD)? Did you know that many of our normal benefits are continually being challenged by many lawmakers to reduce costs?
With today's difficult economy, the Administration and Congress will be looking to save money by cutting benefits. These are things that our military leadership has no control over. We have to use military coalitions, or professional military organizations we call them, to lobby (fight) for these perks and continued benefits at state capitals and on Capitol Hill. They speak daily to our U.S. Representatives in the House and the Senate on legislative initiatives on our behalf. Their agendas focus on "improved" and "continued" benefits for members of the National Guard. And the first two questions always asked are: (l). Who do you represent? and (2). What is the strength (in numbers) of your organization? This is why membership numbers in professional organizations are vital to improving and sustaining benefits for all military members and this includes retired members as well. Not to mention we are required to belong to professional organizations by regulation. Air Force Instruction 36-2618 calls for us to join professional organizations at all rank levels.
State organizations such as the Wisconsin National Guard Association (WINGA), for officers, and the Wisconsin National Guard Enlisted Association (WNGEA), national organizations such as the National Guard Association of the United States(NGAUS) and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) are our professional military organizations. When you join the state organizations you are also joining the corresponding national association. They are non-profit, non-commercial organizations that exist to support, promote and develop the interest of all Army and Air National Guard members.
Now, more than ever, they need our help. In addition to the normal lobbying taking place at the national level, the "Commission of the National Guard and Reserve" delivered their report to Congress on Jan. 31, 2008 after two years of deliberation. There were numerous recommendations that, if enacted, would be harmful to the Guard. In a macro sense, NGAUS and EANGUS disagree with many of the commission's recommendations and they are hopeful Congress gives little credence to them.
One recommendation, Duty Status Reform, mandates we will be paid for one day per UTA day, versus the two days per UTA day we now receive. This would not only negatively affect your pay, but it also reduces the retirement points you earned and eventually, your retirement compensation. Fortunately this is not being implemented at this time but there are many additional findings that are equally damaging to the way we perform our missions and ultimately reducing current benefits. The pressures for our lawmakers to implement policies like this are constant and in today's challenged economy, that pressure is ever increasing.
As you can see, we need strong professional organizations to continually combat this trend but they are only as effectives as their numbers and finances allow. A recent look at EANGUS membership showed the total available members at 402,279 with actual members totaling 44,938 or 11.17 percent nationally. This is down from a membership base of over 76,000 last year. Looking at WNGEA we see here in Wisconsin there are a total of 1,964 Air Guard Members assigned but only 183 of them are members for a measly 9.32 percent.
These are turbulent and financially trying times. Everyone in our business is fighting for the same DoD dollars, so an increase in membership numbers is extremely vital. Large membership numbers will only enhance our voice at the State Capital and on Capitol Hill. In addition to the need for a unified voice on Capitol Hill, Air Force Instruction 36-2618 requires all of us to belong to professional organizations. There are numerous organizations out there to get involved with from enlisted councils on our base to veterans organizations in your communities to lobbyist on Capitol Hill. If you are interested in joining, some are listed below with a link, or you can contact your supervisor or First Sergeant.
These organizations have made numerous contributions to your "quality of life" and include but not limited to the following:
NGAUS / EANGUS
What have they done for us lately?
NGAUS / EANGUS
- 2009 military pay raise of 3.9 percent. DOD recommended 3.4 percent. This is an on-going annual battle.
- Acquired TRICARE Select health coverage for all National Guard members.
- 2008 Stopped DoD attempts to increase TRICARE fees, co-payments and deductibles.
- 2009 Lower TRICARE Reserve Select fees.
- Member only - $47.51 a month, a reduction of $33.49 per month.
- Family - $180.17 a month, a reduction of $72.83 per month.
- Stopped DoD attempts to mandate use of mail-order pharmacy for all medications.
- New GI Bill benefits for those who served 90 day tours of Active Duty.
- Tuition - $21,250 per year.
- Books - $1,000 per year.
- Stipend - $11,952 per year.
- Tutor - $1,200 per year.
- Lobbied for the early military retirement eligibility - was successful in 90-day reductions from age 60 for every 90 days served on Active Duty for contingencies.
- Increased retirement point credit for Guardsmen.
- Increased VA medical care.
- Fought to maintain Air Guard end strengths despite DOD push for reductions.
What are they working on now?
- Change the 90-day early retirement provision to make retroactive for time served from Sept. 11, 2001. Currently it is Jan. 28, 2008.
- Reduce the military retirement age from 60 to 55.
- Working for continual TRICARE coverage between actual retirement and age 60.
- An increase in dental funding.
- Veteran status for retirees.
- VA mileage reimbursement.
- Enhancements to the new GI Bill Authority.
Some bills of interest to us:
- H.R.3554 - Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program.
- H.R.270 - provide for continuity of TRICARE Standard coverage for certain members of the Retired Reserve.
- H.R.208 - back-date to Sept. 11, 2001, eligibility for early receipt of retired pay for contingency service.
- S.831 - includes service after Sept 11, 2001, as qualifying for the determination of early retirement
- H.R.1695 - reduce the minimum age for receipt of military retired pay for non-regular service from 60 to 55.
- H.R.613 - to provide forgiveness of certain overpayments of retired pay paid to deceased retired members H.R.270 - makes a member qualified for retirement at age 60, but is not yet 60, eligible for health benefits.
To find out more about these bills log onto www.thomas.gov
and enter the number of the bill that interests you. At the very least, please take the time to call your representatives and let them know you are interested in them supporting these pieces of legislation when they are voted on. It is a very simple process. To do so, call the capital operator at 1-888-762-8760. They will ask your zip code and connect you to your representative. An intern in the office will record your voting preferences and report the number of calls per piece of legislation recorded that day to your congressmen/senator. It is that easy! Try to make at least three calls to the two senators and one congressman from your area. They need our input to make informed decisions. Do this weekly and we could make a big impact.
For additional information, on the professional organizations available to us, please consult the following websites:
The Wisconsin National Guard Enlisted Association
The Wisconsin National Guard Association
The National Guard Association of the United States
The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States
The Air Force Association
The Air Force Sergeants Association
The Library of Congress: www.thomas.gov
Legislative information from the Library of Congress
BOTTOM LINE: Have you taken advantage of any of the National Guard Membership benefits? Is there at least one benefit that you'd hate to lose? If you answered "yes" to either question, can you afford not to join? Please give serious consideration to joining our professional organizations so that they can be the strongest possible advocate for our concerns in the State Legislatures and in Congress. Your membership serves as your "voice" at the state and national levels.....make it heard! Join today!