National Guard BenefitsUpdated: February 22, 2021
Anyone researching opportunities to serve with the National Guard will run across articles with titles like “National Guard Benefits You Might Not Know About” or “Secret Benefits of Joining The Guard”. Sadly, many of these “benefits” you might not know about?
They’re listed in these articles as “have two careers at once” and “travel the world”. Not really secrets, are they? In fact, what some bloggers list as “secret” benefits or those you “might not know about” are really the best-known benefits.
One blogger goes as far as to suggest that by joining the National Guard in some cases you can get a “free security clearance” that can help in your civilian career. Note for future reference, if applying for a federal job is your goal and you want a security clearance, you don’t have to join the Guard to get a “free clearance.”
Federal security clearances are initiated and paid for by the federal hiring agency, not the applicant.
And let’s be honest, what we’re about to discuss below isn’t much of a secret, either. But there are important details that come with even the most obvious benefits that many don’t know about when they’re considering the option to join the Guard.
National Guard Benefits You (Actually) Might Not Know About
The first things many ask about when they’ve made up their mind to join the Guard? Yes, benefits, but also military pay. How much do you get paid to serve? Here’s what the Army National Guard recruiting page says about Guard pay:
“You can expect to earn excellent pay as a Guard Soldier. Specific pay level will be determined by your rank, job and education level. The higher you go, the more you make. And the more time you serve, the more you earn.”
Guard members are paid every day they serve including training time and drill weekends. The Army official site says Guard members should expect to serve “…approximately two days a month, with two weeks of Annual Training each year. You are considered to be on Active Duty during job skill and Annual Training, and paid accordingly.”
National Guard Pay And Federal Taxes
Here’s the part about Guard pay you might not know–Air National Guard and Army National Guard members “will pay income tax only on your base pay—any upgrades or bonuses received while serving overseas are exempt, meaning this money all comes straight to you.”
Bonuses For Prior Military Service
A lot of the “military benefits you might not know about” articles totally miss one of the big perks of Guard duty for those who have served before–signing bonuses for prior service. Depending on the current needs of the Guard, your military career, and other variables, you may be offered a signing bonus for joining the guard after serving on active duty.
Many articles offering advice for future Guard members overlook this because the articles are aimed at people who have never served in uniform before, but for those who have these are important benefits to know about. Your experience may vary and not all of these bonuses are offered at the same time. Some are career-field dependent, some are not. Examples of bonuses offered in the past include:
- Prior Service Enlistment Bonus
- Enlisted Affiliation Bonus
- Officer Affiliation Bonus
- Re-enlistment Extension Bonus
- Enlisted MOS Conversion Bonus
- Officer Accession Bonus
Guard Education Benefits
Here’s a secret. Joining the National Guard doesn’t open the door to the same exact benefits for every soldier or airman. Why?
Because state-level benefits for the National Guard vary in all 50 states. In some states you may be entitled to in-state tuition even if you haven’t lived in the state long enough to qualify without being a member of the Guard. In some states members of the National Guard get free tuition–not via the GI Bill but rather through state-level programs.
Yes, those who perform qualifying active duty service in the Guard can become eligible for the GI Bill, but the state-level tuition waiver programs are not tied to the GI Bill program and have different requirements for time in service, the nature of your military duty, etc.
And what about the GI Bill for Guard Members? According to VA.gov, National Guard members may be eligible for the following benefits if they meet the qualifying service requirements:
- Post-9/11 GI Bill – Guard memes must have at least “90 aggregate days of active service after Sept. 10, 2001”. Also eligible; those who were discharged with a service-connected disability after serving at least 30 consecutive days after that date.
- Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty – The VA says there are “various” eligibility criteria for this program and a minimum service obligation. The dates of service will be very important–it’s best to discuss your Guard duty and GI Bill eligibility with a VA rep to see whether you qualify for GI Bill funds under this program.
- Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) – Guard members “must have 6-year obligation to serve in the Selected Reserve”, and must complete Initial Active Duty for Training and serve in a drill unit.
SGLI For National Guard Members
Here’s a benefit not listed in those “Guard Benefits You Might Not Know About” articles: life insurance. If you have enough qualifying service in the Guard you can qualify for SGLI. What’s required to apply? You must perform “at least 12 periods of inactive duty training per year” or be a member of the Individual Ready Reserve volunteering “for a mobilization category” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VGLI For National Guard Members
Guard members can also qualify for Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) under the following circumstances as described in VA literature:
- Servicemember separating, retiring, or being released from Reserve or National Guard assignment and already covered by SGLI
- National Guard or Reserve member covered by part-time SGLI who incurred a disability or aggravated a pre-existing disability while performing inactive duty training or traveling to/from duty
- Member of the Individual Ready Reserve or Inactive National Guard
There is a time limit–Guard members must apply within one year and 120 days from discharge. And there are good reasons to do this sooner and not later–those who submit their application within 240 days of discharge “do not need to submit evidence of good health” according to VA.gov.
National Guard Retirement Programs
Yes, people do serve in the National Guard up to the limit, retire, and draw retirement pay. That is not such a “hidden” benefit as a not-very-well-understood one. Army literature reminds us that those who complete a “standard part-time term” in the National Guard by age 60, “you could be eligible to receive monthly payments* based on serving one weekend per month plus an additional 15 days per year” over a 20 year period. You can learn more about Guard Retirement Benefits at the myPay official site.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News