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Senators propose 1% pay raise, new sexual assault measures in defense bill

WASHINGTON – Troops would get a 1 percent pay raise next year, Tricare users’ health care expenses would hold steady, and military prosecutions of sexual assault and other serious crimes would change dramatically under draft legislation proposed by senators on Tuesday.

The 1 percent troop pay raise, although in line with the Pentagon’s budget request earlier this year, sets up a possible confrontation with the House Armed Services Committee, which has proposed a 1.8 percent raise in its version of the NDAA. The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

The hearing Tuesday the first time that the personnel subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its section of the National Defense Authorization Act – known as a “mark” – in public. Before this year, the sessions were closed, and the public’s first view of the process came only when the entire committee debated the complete NDAA bill.

Senators on the subcommittee were in agreement with their House counterparts in refusing to approve the Obama administration’s request for increases in Tricare fees and copays for working-age retirees.

That drew a response from subcommittee co-chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said military health care fees must rise to offset cost increases for the Department of Defense that he called “just unsustainable.”

And once the full committee takes up the NDAA bill, Graham said he would revisit sections of the mark championed by subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would revise the way the military prosecutes sexual assault.

In accord with a bill introduced by Gillibrand, the mark would remove prosecutions for sexual assault and other serious crimes from the chain of command where they occurred, placing them under a separate convening authority. It would also bar commanders from considering the character of someone accused of a crime when deciding how to handle the alleged offense, and require commanders to report all allegations of sexual assault to authorities for investigation.

Among other measures to deal with sexual assault, the subcommittee mark would prevent commanders from changing findings in serious offenses, retain reports of sexual assault for 50 years and improve the training of workers in sexual assault response programs.

The subcommittee mark also reduces active-duty end strength by 40,000 next year, as requested in the administration’s budget request.

Also included in the draft legislation are plans to allow servicemembers to contribute to special needs trust funds for disabled children incapable of self-support, a requirement for the Pentagon to track and report to Congress on the number of suicides among military dependents, and $30 million to support civilian schools with large populations of children from military families.

Carroll.chris@stripes.com
Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_
 

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