Justice says state ‘pushing back’ on possible ending of Guard federal designation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has asked the Trump administration to extend the federal deployment orders to Aug. 15 for the West Virginia National Guard in connection to the Guard’s pandemic response.

The federal order, entered on April 7 by President Donald Trump, is currently scheduled to end June 24. That would leave Guard members with 89 days of federal service, one day short of qualifying for federal benefits, including the G.I. Bill, retirement credits and health benefits. Justice said Thursday he’s not pleased with that possibility.

Gov. Jim Justice

“To penalize them and run them right up to the 90-day threshold and then say we’re going to cut it off at the 89th day, are you kidding me? Really? I’m not very happy with that and we’re going to push back as hard as we can,” Justice said.

Justice sent a letter May 1 to FEMA Region III administrator MaryAnn Tierney to forward to the Department of Defense. State Adjutant General, Major General Jim Hoyer said they are seeking an extension to mid-August which would then be followed by a plan on how Guard personnel would support the state’s pandemic efforts. Hoyer said governors of other states are pushing for similar extensions.

Federal deployment for Guard members is defined as Title 32 activation. It provides 100 percent federal reimbursement to the state for the Guard’s response efforts.

Hoyer said the Guard would continue to do its job even if the federal status ends.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer

“We don’t have large cities, we don’t have large counties with large health response apparatus, in most large events, we in the state of West Virginia rely on the National Guard.”

He said that won’t change on June 25.

Justice called the West Virginia National Guard “miraculous” during his Thursday media briefing.

“We need to push Washington in every way to support these men and women that are doing unbelievable work and I’m going to do just exactly that,” Justice said.

Hoyer said, the combination of businesses reopening and needing Guard members to return to their civilian jobs would force turnover. He said individual soldiers would have to make decisions.

“If the broader apparatus is not going to give me those overarching benefits, I need to look at what’s in the best interests of my family, and that might be to return to my civilian job,” Hoyer said.

The Guard said Thursday it has completed 1,140 missions during its 69-day pandemic deployment. It currently has 678 soldiers deployed in connection with COVID-19 response.

MetroNews reporter Jeff Jenkins contributed to this story. 

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