ISS3 2017

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Rese R vist Magazine Reti R ee sit R ep Reserve, Guard retirees win vet status Story by Tom Philpott Retired Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Gibbens served for 35 years and obeyed every lawful order given to him. But because he had never served 180 days or more consecutively on active duty, he was not entitled to be called a veteran. Until now. Gibbens and about 200,000 other reserve and Guard retirees gained honorary veteran status in the eyes of the federal government Dec. 16, with enactment of the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 6416). Section 305 of the law states that any person entitled under Chapter 1223, Title 10, U.S. Code to "retired pay for nonregular service or, but for age, would be entitled under such chapter to retired pay for nonregular service, shall be honored as a veteran but shall not be entitled to any benefit by reason of this honor." What, then, did Gibbens and other reserve retirees gain? What they had pressed Congress for over decades, he said. "I can't speak for all," Gibbens said. "But the majority of us were not looking for anything beyond the right to call ourselves veterans, and to be recognized as veterans at any event where they say, 'Will all veterans stand and be recognized?' We can do so with a good conscience now." The honor is limited. Most reserve and Guard members, after all, don't serve long enough to retire. They still cannot be called veterans unless they have a qualifying period of active duty under Title 10 orders, which typically means 180 days or longer of consecutive service but always results in a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or DD 214. Years attending monthly drills and annual periods of active duty for training aren't enough to gain veteran status. But now, honorary veteran status is allowed if a reserve-component member serves 20 good years, enough to retire. Gibbens, 75, learned that drill status alone did not make for a veteran during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-1991. For the first time since the Korean War, large numbers of reserve forces, roughly 250,000, deployed to the Persian Gulf under mobilization orders. "Most of those men and women came back and were entitled to be called veterans," Gibbens said. "But those of us who were still serving and had not been deployed were not entitled." Many of the first activations were for periods short of 180 days, but they were still formal Title 10 federal orders and resulted in DD 214s. The proportion of reserve personnel who gained veteran status through mobilization spiked after 9/11, with hundreds of thousands deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. The American Legion and other veterans service organizations urged support for bills to bestow veteran status on reserve and Guard members who completed full careers and qualified for retirement. In the past four Congresses, the bill failed as lawmakers argued privately that even honorary veteran status would evolve over time into full veteran status and additional VA entitlements. Sponsors of such bills, including Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., recently added language that specifically barred any new entitlements to ensure the legislation remained cost-neutral. And affected reservists like Gibbens, who is an Army Reserve ambassador emeritus and life member of the Legion, continually urged approval of the modified bill. Today he is satisfied, and grateful. "We aren't looking to call ourselves combat veterans," Gibbens said. "I'm very aware of the distinction between someone who served in combat versus a non-combat role." Nor were he and most other supporters looking for VA benefits. "It was a matter of pride," he added. "We served. We wore the uniform. But we couldn't technically call ourselves veterans." Now, finally, they can. This article first appeared in American Legion Magazine. Tom Philpott has been covering military personnel and veterans is- sues for nearly 40 years. He also writes a weekly syndicated news column, Military Update, which appears in daily newspapers near military bases throughout the United States. 44 RESERVIST � Issue 3 • 2017

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