Reserve Affairs Offers Help for Those Called-up

By Rudi Williams
Americans Forces Press Service /bylines

news-article WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2001 -- The military can't build a bridge, fly a tanker or air defense sortie or do much of anything without help from the National Guard and Reserve. That's because the reserve components make up nearly 50 percent of the total armed forces, according to Craig W. Duehring, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.

So far, more than 40,000 guardsmen and reservists have been called up to reinforce active duty units participating in Operation Enduring Freedom. Some are freeing up active duty service members for overseas duty while others are being deployed overseas.

The citizen-soldiers from all the services, including the Coast Guard, are doing everything from law enforcement, medical and intelligence to combat air patrol, air refueling operations and port security operations.

Duehring, a retired Air Force colonel and Silver Star medal recipient who flew more than 800 combat missions during the Vietnam War, serves as the senior deputy to the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs in policy development and overall supervision of Reserve forces.

When Enduring Freedom started, reserve affairs officials composed a set of rules and guidelines giving units ideas and directives about the mobility process and their time on active duty. The information is also available on the reserve affairs Web site .

"We get a lot of questions from service members and their families who are going through this very disruptive process," Duehring said. "To help them, we've created a family tool kit. This is also available on our Web site, where you'll find answers for virtually every issue that could possibly come up. There are answers for everything from pay questions to the duration of the mobilization, to whom do I contact if I have an emergency while the military member is gone. There's also information about handling problems before the service members is called up."

"How long?" is probably the first question reserve component personnel and families have been asking, he said. "Not exceeding 12 months," Duehring noted. "That doesn't mean they're actually going to stay on active duty that long, but this was our best guess as to what we thought was reasonable for publishing the orders. It also allows service members to take advantage of some of the medical programs that have 'tripwires' to cross before they can activate them."

However, he said there would be exceptions to the 12-month rule on a case-by-case basis.

The call ups for Enduring Freedom have been an "unsettling time" for guardsmen and reservists and their employers, Duehring said, pointing out that the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve has been busy seven days a week. "Committee members across the country talk to employers and reservists in an effort to resolve specific problems," he said.

Service members and employers seeking information can call 1-800-336-4590, or tap into the employer support Web site. People with questions that are not answered on the Web site are welcome to call the reserve affairs public inquiries line at (703) 693-8617.

"The employers, who are critical components of the Reserve family, have been absolutely wonderful," Duehring said. "These are the people who sign the paychecks so that our people can eat, so that our families can buy clothing, can go to school, can live.

"So we've asked employers to sign a statement of support for their employees who are members of the Reserve components," he noted.

Reserve affairs is encouraging employers to try to find ways to show their support for guardsmen and reservists who work for them. Some companies, for instance, make up the difference in military and civilian pay so their employees don't lose any money while on active duty, Duehring said.

"There are other ways, too, they can help our people out -- perhaps working with the families or in different areas that might be unique to the individuals and their personal situations," he noted.

Help is also available for reserve component personnel and their families at several places around the country, Duehring said. "Every military organization has a family support center to help families cope with the absence of service members," he noted. "Family members can go to the closest military facility -- and don't worry if it's a Navy facility, an Air Force or an Army facility, they'll be the same. You can get your questions answered there if you'd prefer to talk to somebody face to face."

Service members and employers have rights and obligations under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, or USERRA. The act guarantees that service members must be allowed to go when mobilized and return to his or her job or a job of like pay and status in the same organization, Duehring said.

Mobilization pay and allowances are handled exactly the same way as for active duty members. For example, guardsmen and reservists called up can take up to 30 days' advance pay to cover unexpected bills that might crop up before they have to leave. But, primarily, pay and allowance issues should be the same as those of active duty members.

Duehring said members can pay back the 30-day advance in installments.

"Once members come on active duty, they're covered by TRICARE," he said. "If they come on active duty for more than 30 days, their families are also eligible for TRICARE Extra or TRICARE Standard. We have some special provisions in effect for Enduring Freedom. For example, we'll cover the deductible cost that's associated with TRICARE Standard. The families of individuals on active duty for 179 days or more are also eligible for TRICARE Prime, which has very low co-payments and no deductibles."

Service members have another option for medical care: They can elect to keep their own healthcare benefits, which they may have privately or through their employers. "In this case, we will pay up to 115 percent of the TRICARE costs associated with a particular treatment," Duehring said. "If this gets a little bit confusing, just contact your local TRICARE provider to answer the questions.

"After members' active duty time is over, they can keep TRICARE in effect for up to 30 days or until such time as another healthcare insurance policy comes into effect," he said.

Duehring said college students who are called up should contact the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges , or SOC, for help in solving any problems they may encounter.

"We've been absolutely flooded with telephone calls, e- mails and letters from people who wish to volunteer their services in defense of their country," he said. "But we don't have an organized program for volunteers at this time."

He suggested that those who want to volunteer discuss the possibility with their service's reserve personnel centers. "Or, they might seek to volunteer in another capacity at a local level to help our country through this very trying period," Duehring noted.