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Sen. Kaine pushes for survey on military benefits

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A Defense Department commission will issue a report in February 2015 on a politically charged topic: how to save money in military compensation and benefits.

But before that happens, Sen. Tim Kaine wants the commission to survey military personnel on what pay and benefit packages they most value. Kaine and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation Tuesday to direct the commission to conduct a formal survey of military personnel before the February 2015 report.

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has been working since 2013. Members are considering cost-saving measures in basic pay, housing allowances, bonuses and special pay, retirement compensation and dependent health care. In many cases, commission members have held public hearings to gauge feedback.

Those meetings are useful, but a formal survey would be more valuable in helping Congress decide, Kaine said.

"You can do things in a survey that you can't do in a town hall meeting," Kaine said. "You can get a scientific sample across pay grades and ranks."

Members of Congress have balked at making piecemeal changes to military compensation, preferring to wait until the commission weighs in with its overall report.

"This report is high stakes," Kaine said. "We're putting a lot of eggs in the basket of this report. We want it to make sure it is as reliable and helpful as we can make it."

In the past few months, members of Congress have gotten an earful from veterans groups and the military on proposed benefit cuts. In December, a provision to reduce the rate of increase in military retiree pay provoke a storm of protest. This year, Congress has heard complaints about a plan to cut funding for military commissaries.

Kaine said cutting a popular benefit might save money in the short run, but it could reduce the retention rate. That would be expensive in the long term because it would lead to an influx of new recruits that require more training.
 

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