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Federal government extends National Guard deployment

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia’s representation in the U.S. Senate praised action Thursday by President Donald Trump to keep the West Virginia National Guard on the frontlines of the coronavirus rapid response in the state.

Trump issued the order to extend Title 32 full-time National Guard duty for all states and federal territories until the middle of August. Trump made the announcement over Twitter Thursday.

“The men and women of the National Guard have been doing a great job fighting the Coronavirus,” Trump said. “This week, I will extend their Title 32 orders through mid-August, so they can continue to help states succeed in their response and recovery efforts.”

Title 32 orders allow National Guard members to operate at full-time capacity for operational activities, including natural disasters, homeland security and protection of infrastructure. Title 32 allows the Secretary of Defense to provide federal funding to governors to use National Guard assets.

The news broke about Trump’s extension of Title 32 during Justice’s daily coronavirus briefing Thursday at the State Capitol Building. Justice said he has been talking with Trump and other federal officials to extend the order.

“This just came out from President Trump. … That’s hot off the wire,” Justice said. “I’m tickled to death. (Trump) listened to a lot of people, including his little buddy here in West Virginia, so we got that extension to mid-August. That’s really good.”

The original Title 32 order was set to expire on June 24, prompting governors and congressional leaders to put pressure on the White House to extend Title 32. The June 24 expiration date was also one day before many guard members would have qualified for federal benefits due to serving 90 days or more.

“I came out probably a week ago and surely had some conversations with the White House and said ‘look, we can’t run up to the 89th day and then say we’re not going to continue on with honoring all the benefits and all the great things the National Guard has done,'” Justice said. “They deserve it tenfold in my book, and I’m sure the president feels the same way.”

The West Virginia National Guard has been operating for the last 75 days on various coronavirus response efforts. As of Wednesday there are more than 660 guard members on active duty in the state serving in a multitude of roles, including assistance with epidemiology with the Department of Health and Human Resources, helping train businesses on the proper use of personal protective equipment, decontaminating and re-using various forms of personal protective equipment, making and designing new face masks, and assisting with feeding programs for students and families.

Both U.S. senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have written letters and put pressure on federal officials to extend the Title 32 order. Both released statements praising the decision.

“This is fantastic news,” Capitol said. “Our National Guard plays a tremendous role in our fight against the coronavirus, and they deserve full support and benefits for the vital work they are performing in our communities right now. I’m pleased President Trump agrees and is extending the Title 32 orders so our National Guard can continue their critical work and get the proper compensation.”

“I am pleased President Trump has listened to my call for an extension of the Title 32 orders for our service members on the front lines of this terrible pandemic,” Manchin said. “They deserve to receive GI bill and retirement benefits for their service.

Manchin and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, have co-sponsored a bill to expand transitional health care benefits to guard members who have served on COVID-19 missions. Manchin called on Trump to support his Support Our National Guard Act.

We cannot leave our National Guard service members without health care after they bravely served during this global health crisis,” Manchin said. “We must ensure those on the front lines caring for our fellow West Virginians and Americans who are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are taken care of during and after their service.”

As of Thursday, the West Virginia National Guard is no longer under the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, but now reports directly to the Governor’s Office. DMAPS is also now the Department of Homeland Security after the Legislature approved changes to the name and structure of DMAPS during the most recent legislative session.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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