US Supreme Court approves reduction of Social Security benefits to dual status National Guard members
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US Supreme Court approves reduction of Social Security benefits to dual status National Guard members

The US Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the social security claim of a National Guard member who served as a dual-status technician, categorized as both a civilian and a military employee.

The US government had reduced his retirement benefits by about $100 per month under a statutory rule known as the “windfall elimination provision” which dictates that benefits of retirees who receive payments from separate employment-based pensions not subject to Social Security taxes will be reduced. Claimant David Babcock challenged the reduction, citing an exception for pension payments that are “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.”

The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether Babcock’s technician work was considered service “as” a member of the National Guard. The Court, denying this assertion, reasoned that “as” is most naturally read to mean “[i]n the role, capacity, or function of.” And the Social Security Act defines the role of a technician as a civilian. This categorization is further supported by the statutory context which does not subject technicians to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and gives them distinct civilian rights such as seeking recourse for workplace discrimination, collecting workers’ compensation and disability benefits, and compensatory time off for overtime work. These rules establish a consistent distinction between technician employment and National Guard duty.

Further, the Court found that this distinction holds true even though Babcock served in the National Guard in other capacities. His civil-service pension is not based on his military service, for which he received separate military pension payments, and which is exempt from the windfall elimination rule.

Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented, opining that dual-status military technicians hold “a unique position in federal employment” and because their employment requires them to maintain membership of the National Guard, they do serve the country and should be honored as such by providing the due retirement benefits.