By Lt. Col. Denise Kerr, AF Reserve Policy Integration
WASHINGTON D.C. — Reserve component and defense leaders discussed the Department of Defense’s Duty Status Reform proposal with lawmakers March 27 at a hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee.
Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, chief of the Air Force Reserve and Air Force Reserve Command commander, testified alongside leaders from Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, National Guard Bureau, and Department of Defense.
“For too many years, activation authorities were added piecemeal for any number of reasons without thought for maintaining a coherent and usable system,” said Chairwoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). “Activation of any portion of the reserve component has turned into a jumble of statues of pre- and post-mobilization benefits that are not easily understandable by our service members or their families.
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress directed the defense department to address the myriad of mobilization authorities. Past reform efforts through multiple commissions have tried to solve the pay, benefits, and health care disparities between the statuses.
Gen. Scobee, representing nearly 70,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen, said that the proposal will enhance readiness, increase flexibility, and improve operational utilization.
“Just like how we modernize our equipment, we have to modernize our organization as well,” said Gen. Scobee. “And right now we are continuing to operate under some obsolete rules and regulations that tie our hands and the combatant commanders’ hands when it comes to employing the reserves.”
The reforms also aim to improve quality of life by ensuring personnel are correctly compensated for their service.
“It will prevent disruptions in pay and benefits, including medical coverage for our reserve component,” he said.
During the hearing, Gen. Scobee said he deployed in 2008 as a traditional reservist to Iraq. While deployed, he went through six different statuses, which caused a break in health care for his family.
“If that happens to a colonel or a senior officer in America’s armed forces, imagine what is happening to some of our younger folks that can’t absorb that kind of shock,” he said. “So that is why this is important.”
Speier said there have been tweaks due to the changing utilization of the reserve component over the last 18 years of conflict. She said the DoD reforms will simplify the system of call-up authorities to four categories, which should help remove disparities and disruptions in pay, benefits, and healthcare.
“We will assign pay and benefits according to the categories and as long as the member remains in that particular category, their pay and benefits package do not change, “ said Ms. Jerilyn Bucsch, DoD director of military compensation policy. “They won’t have to go from status to status.”
Gen. Scobee said that Airmen want the process to be fair and right in resolving pay and benefits inequities through this reform.
“Having two people deployed at the same time in the same place under different statuses and being compensated differently, causes a lot of misunderstanding of how we are taking care of our Airmen and their families,” said Gen. Scobee.
Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) asked if there will be gray areas in balancing training requirements and demands.
“As we were going through this duty status reform, a lot of it was looking at how we mobilize and get our Airmen trained and out the door for combat deployments,” said Gen. Scobee.
He said the ability to organize, train, and equip with different authorities, such as individual drill periods and annual training plans, will not change under duty status reform. It is still important to build continuity, stability, and white space so reservists can work with their employers to take that time off.
“This doesn’t change any of that. We would still work that into our annual training plans for our Airmen,” he said.
Rep. Davis also asked if the proposal will impact recruiting and retention.
“The duty status reform is going to help us with retention as it makes it easier for our Airmen and less confusing for their families,” Gen. Scobee said.
Other topics included a discussion on if the duty status reform will resolve the 450 provisions of law and when the subcommittee will receive DoD’s proposal.
As the hearing concluded, Rep. Speier expressed concern about the length of time it will take for the systems to accommodate the regulatory changes.
“Lt. Gen. Scobee, I think, made a very important point when he said that all of a sudden his family was bare in terms of health care services, “said Rep. Speier. “I don’t think we want any of our service members whether they are National Guard or active duty…to be in a situation where they are without health insurance, so that to me would be a high priority to make sure it is implemented immediately.”
Ms. Busch said interim measures will address those issues as they move forward.
“I imagine that over the time we implement this, just as we did with Blended Retirement, that we will make those kind [of] adjustments as necessary,” said Ms. Busch.
There is a video of the hearing available.