The Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020 was signed by the President last week, expanding benefits to more Guardsmen and their families.

President Trump signed the legislation on January 5, narrowly missing an accidental “pocket veto.” Had he not signed it when he did, the measure would not have become law unless the new Congress passed similar legislation.

One of the legislation’s many new benefits is 12 months of fully paid maternity leave for drill-status women in the Guard and Reserve. They will also receive retirement points. This closely mirrors the same program women on active-duty have had since 2016.

(The National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 also included health benefits for Guardsmen by providing six-months of transitional medical coverage for Guardsmen and their families after Title 32 coronavirus response missions. In the past, Guardsmen had received transitional coverage, after overseas assignments, to cover any lingering medical issues. Yet, this is the first time that they receive coverage after a domestic mission.)

Health benefits weren’t the only benefits included in the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act.

The new legislation credits, for the first time, service under Title 32 (federally funded but under state control) toward VA home loans. The threshold for the program is 90 cumulative days on Title 32 with at least 30 consecutive days.

Until last week, Guardsmen qualified for no-money-down, VA-guaranteed mortgage only if they had served and mobilized under Title 10 for 90 days consecutively or had six years of total service.

Another provision expands Fry Scholarship eligibility for the children and spouses of troops who died on or after September 11, 2001, due to their military service.

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship (Fry Scholarship) is a scholarship for the children and dependents of veterans. If your parent or spouse was an active-duty servicemember and died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001, you may qualify for this benefit.

The recently-signed legislation removes the requirement that the death occurred while on federal active-duty. This means deaths that occur on weekend drills and other training also apply. So, too, do those that result from a service-connected disability.

The new legislation also provides a presumption of service-connection for military members who contract the coronavirus within 14 days of completing duty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, it expands counseling for sexual trauma at VA facilities to former Guardsmen and Reservists. Previously, counseling could only be received if one was a current member of the Reserve or Guard. The same provision also allows the VA to treat physical health conditions from military sexual trauma (MST), not just mental health conditions.

Further, expanded provisions for federal employment protections and reemployment rights to Guardsmen were created for those that have served at least 14 days of state active-duty or have mobilized to respond to a national emergency or natural disaster.

The National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) was mainly responsible for making all these benefits come to life by assisting the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees with the act’s formulation.

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