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Do airmen get a “substandard living allowance” when assigned to other services?

It is an axiom among servicemembers that the Air Force has the nicest digs. Indeed, when The Rumor Doctor visited Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake, it certainly appeared that the Air Force had nicer accommodations than the Army or Marines.

So The Rumor Doctor was not too surprised when a reader asked if airmen get a special allowance when they have to slum it with the other services.

“I heard a rumor several years ago that Air Force personnel assigned to Army bases receive an additional monthly entitlement,” the reader wrote in an email. “Some claim this entitlement is a ‘substandard living allowance.’”

The reader explained that when he was stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga., an airman who was also assigned there claimed he was getting a special allowance for living below the standards to which he was accustomed. The airman showed the reader this extra pay on his Leave and Earnings Statement.

But, the Air Force has no special allowance for airmen who live on other services’ bases, service spokesman André Kok told The Rumor Doctor.

“Let’s say you’re an [Air Force] E-5 and living on base at an Army base, you’re going to get the same housing allowance that the Army E-5, that the Navy E-5 that the Marine Corps E-5 is going to get,” Kok said.

While there is no Air Force allowance for substandard living conditions, the Defense Department can compensate servicemembers who live in quarters that deemed to be inadequate, according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Decisions on what are considered substandard living accommodations are made by local base housing offices, DFAS officials said. In those cases, servicemembers are guaranteed that whatever they pay in rent cannot exceed 75 percent of their housing allowance, thus they have extra money.

As for the general impression that the Air Force has nicer accommodations than the other services, retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Larry D. Welch has an explanation.

The Air Force has traditionally been an all-volunteer force, so it needed to provide good working and living facilities to attract high-quality airmen, Welch said in an email.

“With the all-volunteer force, all the services increased the emphasis on the incentive of quality living and working facilities,” he said. “The Air Force just had a head start.”

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: If the reader’s airman friend was receiving extra pay, it was certainly not because he was an airman assigned to an Army base. While the Air Force puts a lot of emphasis on creating nice working and living conditions, anyone who has been to Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in winter can attest to the fact that not all Air Force assignments are plush.

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