People join their country's armed services for a multitude of reasons. Whether it is out of a sense of public duty or whether it is for economic reasons, most modern armed forces provide incentives to attract and retain members. Given that remuneration for service is generally only just adequate, those incentives are an important part of maintaining a loyal and willing force.
Since the end of the 2nd World War, the US military has stood ahead of most western armed services in providing specific rewards to members for service completed and extended benefits to those who provide long service. The Montgomery GI Bill is one of those benefits and, among other things, provides a reasonably generous education allowance to those who have been discharged or released from active duty (regular force). Those benefits remain in force for 10 years after the member leaves the service.
National Guard members and the various military and naval reservists also have access to the Montgomery GI Bill, but there's a catch.
The Reserve GI Bill was written for the likes of George W. Bush. During the Vietnam conflict, the Reserve and National Guard were not called to active duty. Members continued to serve on a part-time basis and could refuse long-term active duty, thus avoiding combat, while involuntary conscripts were compelled to serve two years full-time, often in a combat zone. Draftees received full GI Bill benefits commensurate with the length of their active service.
Members of the National Guard or Reserve have a reduced benefit, understandably, because their service is part-time. They also have to use any benefits within 14 years of joining or before they go to discharge, whichever comes first. In short, they have to use the benefit while they're still members. It's still not a bad deal and it operates as intended. The Guard and Reserve members have the opportunity to go to school while serving... as long as there isn't a war.
A member of the National Guard has to use GI Bill benefits while they are actually in the Guard. The moment they leave the Guard, their benefits expire. From Stars and Stripes:
“It’s unconscionable how these young men and women are being treated now that they have served their nation in time of war [and] completed their enlistment contract,” said [Arkansas Rep. Vic] Snyder (D-AK).Get that?
consider the experience of Reserve and Guard members, said Snyder. An initial commitment of up to six years can include up to two years of involuntary active duty, with a year or more in a combat zone. Yet reservists who leave service after completing their obligations forfeit any unused Reserve GI Bill benefits.
Because Reserve MGIB was designed mostly as a retention tool, only members who stay in drill status, subject to call up, can use education benefits. In wartime, Snyder said, this is “terribly unfair.”
The only way a Guard or Reserve member can keep GI Bill benefits is by re-enlisting. They are then subject to immediate call-up. Given the stop-loss policy and the need for skilled troops, re-enlisting Guard and Reserve members end up right back on full-time service, unable to use their education benefit.
In fairness, the administration did provide for greater benefits to those Guard and Reserve personnel called to active duty. They passed the Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP) in 2004. Under that program Reservists and Guard members who are called to active duty for a period greater than 90 days get extra education benefits - which expire the day the member is discharged.
“They are put in situations where they are not going to be able to go to school,” Snyder said. “You say, ‘You can only use this benefit while in the reserves. Oh, by the way, for the next 18 months we’re going to put you in places where you ain’t going to go to school.’”The long and short of it is that a member of the National Guard or Reserve can now spend as much time on active duty, in a combat zone, as the draftees of the Vietnam war and, if they don't re-enlist and subject themselves to further risk, come out with nothing.
Add to all this that service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often had to undergo GI Bill briefings on arrival while their families waited. After 18 months away, most would have been so totally distracted that such a briefing would fly right over their heads... except for one part: If you don't re-enlist, you get nothing.
Unconscionable indeed. But then, you'd need a Commander-In-Chief who actually had a conscience.