07/16/2010 12:01 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

BP: Stop Hurting National Security, Start Paying for National Guard GI Bill Benefits

BP may have lobbied for the release of a known terrorist to secure an oil contract with the Libyan government. They may finally plug the leak this week. And Tony Hayward may go on another sailing race. Top hats and booms. Cleanup crews and lawsuits. Over the last few months of this disaster, we’ve heard talk about it all. But what you haven’t heard about is the significant national security risk created by this catastrophe. And you probably also didn’t hear that due to a bureaucratic loophole, many of the men and women in uniform responding to this mess in their own state are not receiving credit toward educational benefits they have earned.  

Since the spill began, nearly fifteen hundred National Guardsmen have been deployed to the gulf region to clean up BP’s mess. This call-up is the latest contribution to years of overuse and overextension of a force that really can’t afford it.  Though it may seem like a small number of troops, we have few to spare, and the impact on the force and the individual is substantial. With the National Guard making up at times roughly 40% of our force in Iraq and Afghanistan, the same folks are being deployed and re-deployed one, two, maybe three times again. Imagine coming back from your second or third tour to Iraq or Afghanistan, and being told you’re being redeployed to scrub oil from the beaches in Louisiana. It’s happening right now to thousands of troops, and the impact is being felt by them and their families across America.

By definition, the role of the National Guard is to serve during times of domestic emergencies.  And they’ve done it very well.  Over the last few years, they’ve played a critical role in the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the California wildfires, and a variety of other local and regional disasters. Now, they have been called to respond to a disaster of corporate negligence and recklessness -- a far cry from the work of Mother Nature.

While BP takes advantage of this overused backstop security force, allowing our military’s performance at home and abroad to suffer, they aren’t even ensuring our troops get the benefits they have earned.

For many, service accrued for serving in the Gulf doesn’t count towards education benefits under the new GI Bill.  As the law is written, Guardsmen who are deployed under “Title 32” orders are not given credit for this active duty time served in their home state. An Army Reservist doing the same job as a member of the Louisiana Guard sandbagging St. Bernard parish, would amass benefits for the GI Bill. But for a member of the Louisiana or Mississippi National Guard, this loophole costs tens of thousands of dollars, and might be the difference between going to college or not.

Instead, BP launched a $50 million advertising campaign to let Americans know “it won’t happen again.” $50 million was devoted to image building, instead of to covering the education benefits for thousands of National Guardsmen scrubbing rocks and filling sandbags.

Regardless of whether or not the spill is stopped this week, there might be help on the way. But it’s not coming from BP. A GI Bill fix legislation package is making its way through Congress that promises to address the issue. But very soon, Congress will go on vacation for the summer and unless we see action fast, these Guardsmen might just be stuck in the muck, without a diploma. If the president wants some asses to kick, this would be a good place to start.

And if that fails to happen, maybe BP can use its advertising budget to foot the $12,000 bill to send each one of the Guardsmen charged with cleaning up its mess to college.  Now that’s beyond petroleum.

Tell Congress: Don’t make our troops pay for BP’s mess. Sign the petition and tell your member of Congress to take action on the new GI Bill fix Package TODAY.

Crossposted at