Wallis: Reservists Deserve to Be Honored as Veterans

Posted October 10, 2012 at 6:28pm

There are many ways to honor heroes of our country. Firefighters and police officers are among the bravest examples. If there were any doubt of that, 9/11 certainly cast these selfless individuals back into the spotlight. 

And while a firefighter or police officer in New York City will undoubtedly face more life-threatening situations than say a firefighter or police officer serving in Wausau, Wis., I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person, in either community, that would differentiate between the selfless service of a New York City first responder and a Wausau first responder. 

These individuals put their lives on the line every single day, no matter what the circumstances are of the communities they serve in. No one ever tries to differentiate between an officer who has had to use his or her weapon in the line of duty and one who has not. The idea would be preposterous.

The same arguments can be made for those who have been asked to deploy overseas during peacetime or war. Either way, individuals who made the decision to serve in the National Guard or Reserve not only committed to the daily “unknown” factor of being called overseas at a moment’s notice but also to face some of the most deadly situations imaginable.

Once called, the reservist and his or her active component counterpart face the same situations. Both signed up knowing the risk associated with it, and for that they are heroes in their own right. 

As part of the “total force” concept, one would think that active component and reservists would be unified as a team. This respect has only been strengthened by the fact that, of the 2.5 million who have fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan, nearly half were reservists.

With Veterans Day just around the corner, it is important to honor those who serve in our nation’s military. 

However, there is a select group of these reservists who are unable to enjoy some of the most basic and, in this fiscal-centric climate, cost-free honors of their commitment to sacrifice, diligence and duty. 

Today some reservists who were never called to active duty or whose orders were written in a certain way are unable to enjoy certain honors allowed to those who make the choice to serve. 

Saluting the flag, walking in Veterans Day parades and other celebrations or simply identifying themselves as veterans are honors not enjoyed by those who were never called to active-duty status.

Last year, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), with Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), introduced S. 491, the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act. The Congressional Budget Office scored the bill at zero cost. The House has already passed its version (H.R. 1025).

The measure authorizes veteran status for National Guard and Reserve members who are entitled to nonregular retirement, which is 20 years of service, and were never activated to the full 190 days of active-duty service. The bill would enable qualifying Reserve component service members to receive recognition for their sacrifice as veterans and not provide any additional financial benefits or expenditures by the federal government.

In fact, many Veterans Affairs benefits are already being received by reservists. This begs the question that if the law already implies that veterans are defined as those eligible for VA benefits by virtue of their service, and reservists are receiving benefits by virtue of their service, they too can be considered veterans under this definition.

Some opponents of this legislation feel the bill would belittle or devalue the sacrifice that active-duty service members have made. 

No matter what branch of the armed services, there are plenty of ways to tell who’s been to the front. From combat badges to awards with a “V” (for acts of valor) to battle-command pins and even combat commissions, there are plenty of ways for full-time active-duty troops to be honored and thanked for their courageous acts. 

S. 491 wants to help reservists who are unable to do some of the simplest things veterans can do. To someone who’s made the decision to answer the call, the least Congress can do is support a law that would allow them to salute a flag and be identified as someone who made the choice to stand up for their nation at a time of war. 

We join other organizations and members of the Military Coalition — a group of 34 military, veterans and uniformed services organizations — in standing by Pryor, Boozman and Wyden in getting this legislation passed, alone or as part of a veterans bills package this fall. What a wonderful gift and honor it would be to recognize those reservists who signed up, knowing the risk, to be allowed to be called veterans this Veterans Day. 

Anthony A. Wallis is director of legislation/government affairs for the Association of the United States Navy.