At a cost of as much as $20 million, more than 200 National Guard soldiers returning to Louisiana from Iraq are staying on active duty for up to a year so they can have full-time work in their hometowns.The Louisiana Guard members were preparing to head home from Iraq when Katrina hit at the end of August, according to the AP. Many of the soldiers who were part of the 256th Brigade Combat Team now are helping to rebuild and restore Guard facilities in Louisiana that were damaged.
“They came back home after fighting a war, and they had no way to make a living. So the Army has offered them a chance to stay on active duty and help the state to rebuild,” saidColonel Billy Thomas, deputy commander of the Army’s Task Force Care, who came out of retirement to help manage the benefits and other aid for members of the military affected by Katrina.
So far, 211 of the Guard members have received extensions of their active duty status, which can last up to a year. The Guardsmen may not remain on active duty that long, though, if their previous jobs are re-established. A similar Louisiana program pays for reservists to extend their active duty to work in the state. So far, Thomas said, 253 reservists signed up.Another 59 out of around 3,000 members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team from Mississippi have begun the application process for extended duty in their state.
The task force has also processed 3,147 claims for other benefits from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine families who were evacuated from their homes and had to pay for other lodging. The families could be reimbursed for up to six months of housing and other costs amounting to between $65 and $150 per day, depending on what city they are in, Thomas told the AP.
Thomas said it is not known yet how much the payments will cost the government, but also said,“This is something we felt good about. It’s a program where the Army and the Defense Department have stepped up and said we’re going to take care of our soldiers.”