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Guard, Reserve Service Takes High Financial Toll

National Guard member Kenneth Eicholz, 42, of Westphalia, Mo., says he was proud to serve his country in Iraq, but he's upset that he lost his car repair shop in the process.
Marisa Penaloza, NPR
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National Guard member Kenneth Eicholz, 42, of Westphalia, Mo., says he was proud to serve his country in Iraq, but he's upset that he lost his car repair shop in the process.
<b>Helping military families pay the bills</b>: This chart from USA Cares breaks down the needs of the 960 people who have sought help from the nonprofit group.
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Helping military families pay the bills: This chart from USA Cares breaks down the needs of the 960 people who have sought help from the nonprofit group.

Forty percent of American troops in Iraq are from National Guard and Reserve units. For many, the financial sacrifices are great. Many lose the salaries they were earning in the private sector, and their families are struggling to pay bills.

Support from the military can be elusive, because these soldiers are not part of a base community where family support groups are ready-made. Private groups like the nonprofit USA Cares, which is run by a retired major general, have sprung up to help cover the money gap, and some members of Congress have proposed incentives and subsidies to cover the loss of income.

The Pentagon insists it is doing what it can to help. And officials point out that some in the Guard are actually making more money than in the private sector.

It's not clear how many families are struggling, but 430,000 Guard members and reservists have been mobilized since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than half of those who are married make less money in the military than in their regular jobs, according to a Defense Department survey.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.
Marisa Peñaloza is a senior producer on NPR's National Desk. Peñaloza's productions are among the signature pieces heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as weekend shows. Her work has covered a wide array of topics — from breaking news to feature stories, as well as investigative reports.