NC National Guard soldiers go without pay, health insurance as they prepare for combat deployment

Updated: Sep. 2, 2019 at 9:39 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – If Kaylyn Hayes doesn’t pay her electric bill by Tuesday, the power at her home is scheduled to be shut off.

That’s just one of the many bills hanging over her head these days while her husband is preparing to deploy to the Middle East with the North Carolina National Guard.

Her husband left home in late June to prepare for his deployment along with thousands of other soldiers from the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

Since being mobilized for deployment, Hayes said, she and other families in the unit have had to make do with infrequent pay checks and non-existent health insurance.

Hayes’ family has now gone without two paychecks in a row. She said she’s gotten nowhere calling staff in Raleigh to try and resolve the problem.

“I called and they were just complete—they didn’t care!” Hayes said.

She and dozens of other families took to social media to try and raise awareness of the ongoing problems and rally help from media outlets across the state in hopes that mounting public pressure would get bureaucrats to finally act.

“I don’t know what else to do,” she told WBTV. “I tried it the nice, civil way and I was just concerned with me but there are so many that don’t have anybody to say anything for them.”

The problems stems from a lag in the computer system as soldiers transfer from Guard status to active duty, where they are entitled to a full active duty paycheck and free medical benefits through insurance called TRICARE.

In a written statement, a spokesman for the NCNG, Lieutenant Colonel Matt DeVivo, blamed the persistent missing paychecks on the soldiers.

“It is up to the soldier to notify their chain of command that they have a pay issue. If that does not happen the length between pay checks grows,” DeVivo said. “Once the pay issue is identified the unit leadership gets state HQs involved and a pay inquiry ticket is submitted and in most cases the issue is resolves in less than 2 week (sic) for inquiry ticket.”

On Monday, Hayes said her family had missed their second paycheck, her husband’s pay packet had been lost and the staff that could help process her family’s income—with whom she had previously spoken—were not in the office on Monday for the holiday.

“If they owe you money, you don’t get it,” she said.

In addition to paychecks, 30th ABCT soldiers have also been unable to access their health insurance.

Soldiers who previously paid for TRICARE because of their Guard status are now eligible for free insurance during their active duty service.

But, Hayes said, a delay in switching the soldiers to active duty status in the computer has meant families have been unable to access any insurance, including the old plans they paid for.

Hayes provided messages that have been sent amongst 30th ABCT families regarding the ongoing hardship caused by not having insurance.

“I got denied an appointment with by OB/GYN for a follow up, even when I offered to bring his orders. I also can’t pay for an MRI out of pocket,” one woman said in a message Hayes shared with WBTV.

In another message, a woman said she didn’t have access to health insurance even as she gave birth to a child.

In his statement, DeVivo disputed the assertion that families had lost healthcare coverage.

“Soldiers and families never lost health care they are all covered,” he said.

“The problem is the system of record shows many to be ineligible,” DeVivo said. This too is a result of mobilization transitioning from a Guard status to active duty and the multiple personnel systems that have to be processed to validate eligibility. The eligibility process doesn’t begin until the first day soldiers are on active duty.”

DeVivo said that, as of Monday, more than 2,00 30th ABCT soldiers are coded in the system as eligible for insurance. He said the rest of the soldiers are expected to be coded correctly by Thursday.

In the meantime, DeVivo’s statement said, leaders are encouraging soldiers’ families to delay seeking non-emergent medical care and to wait to have prescriptions filled.

“If a family has an emergency they should immediately go to their nearest hospital. If a family can wait a week or two before getting medication or seeing a doctor we are asking them to do so to allow the system to catch up,” he said.

“If a family needs medication or to see a doctor today, then do so, however with the understanding that if the TRICARE system still does NOT say they are eligible, they will have for pay for the medication and doctor's visit,” the statement continued.

This is not the first time North Carolina National Guard soldiers have grappled with pay issues.

Previous: NC National Guard soldiers’ paychecks delayed ahead of deployment

In October 2017, approximately 500 soldiers with the 505 Engineering Battalion and related companies based in Gastonia were mobilized for an overseas deployment and waited roughly a month before getting their first paycheck.

Last fall, WBTV uncovered an effort by the NCNG to force soldiers to re-pay money they had been over-paid the year before while being activated to respond to Hurricane Matthew.

Ultimately, lawmakers passed a bill that allowed the over-payments to be forgiven in the wake of WBTV’s investigation.

Now, the NCNG is once again sorting out pay and benefits for soldiers preparing to deploy overseas at the same time as hundreds of guardsmen are being activated ahead of Hurricane Dorian, which is expected to his North Carolina’s coast later this week.

“I didn’t expect this and (my husband) has been on two deployments and I know he didn’t expect this,” Kaylyn Hayes said of the missing paychecks.

As Hayes talked with WBTV, her husband and other soldiers were counselled by their commanders for speaking publicly about the pay issues.

WBTV received multiple reports of soldiers being reprimanded for posting about the problems on social media and even for calling the inspector general.

In his statement, DeVivo confirmed command staff was taking action against soldiers who had sought to bring attention to their lack of pay and benefits since being mobilized.

“We do not silence soldiers however if soldiers have problems / issues they should communicate through their chain of command. They can also speak to the unit's inspector general, however social media is not the preferred way to voice issues,” the statement said.

“There are clear Army regulations and policies for service members when engaging on social media, so soldiers need to abide by Army regulation and to work their issues through their chain of command,” the statement continued.

US Senator Thom Tillis’ office is tracking the ongoing issue, a spokesman said.

“Our office is aware of the issues facing North Carolina National Guard soldiers, and our office is currently helping families who have contacted our office to alert us about the problems they are facing,” a spokesman said.

“No civilian in the private sector is expected to work without receiving their paychecks, and this should not be happening to any service member,” the statement continued. “Any NCNG soldier having an issue with receiving their paychecks and is not able to quickly resolve it with the NCNG should contact Senator Tillis’ Charlotte office and we will contact the NCNG on the soldier’s behalf.”

The number for Tillis’ Charlotte office is 704-509-9087.

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