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Troops to see 1.8 percent pay raise if proposed budget bill passes

WASHINGTON -- Troops would see a 1.8 percent pay raise and TRICARE users would see their fees unchanged under a budget bill proposed by House Republicans on Tuesday.

The early draft of the annual defense authorization bill also includes plans to eliminate 24 general and flag officer billets, prohibit commanders from dismissing most court martial decisions, and allow Special Operations Command officials to use some of their funding for family support services.

The proposals still are a long way from becoming law, but they provide an early look at some of the defense budget battles likely to take place over the summer.

If approved, the higher pay increase would mean about $20 more a month for an E-4 with six years service and about $45 for an O-4 with six years. But White House officials earlier this year said an increase limited to one percent -- the lowest proposed pay raise since the Vietnam War -- was needed to help keep personnel costs under control.

Pentagon leaders have also insisted that modest increases to TRICARE fees for military retirees are needed to help keep the health care system solvent, but Congress has rejected all such attempts in recent years.

The draft legislation would reject all plans to increase TRlCARE Prime enrollment fees, pharmacy co-pays, or enrollment fees for TRlCARE services.

In a statement, members of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee said the proposals are designed to support troops and their families “with the care and benefits they need, deserve, and have earned.”

The draft also includes a host of measures designed to deal with sexual assault in the ranks, including new provisions to mandate dismissal for any servicemember found guilty of rape or attempted sexual assault, allow commanders to transfer assault victims away from their attackers, and require specially trained lawyers to provide help to all victims of sex-related offenses.

Pentagon officials have been scrambling to deal with the issue of sexual assault after a series of high-profile embarrassments in recent weeks. Earlier this month, The head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention office was charged with sexual battery, and an enlisted soldier leading similar programs at Fort Hood was accused of running a prostitution ring and assaulting women.

A Defense Department annual report on sexual assault in the military showed a slight increase in reported crimes from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012. But the 3,374 assaults investigated represented only small fraction of the estimated 26,000 assaults in the military in fiscal 2012, based on anonymous surveys.

The House Armed Services Committee is expected to finalize its draft of the authorization bill in coming weeks. A final compromise version from the House and Senate isn’t expected until late 2013.

shane.leo@stripes.com

Twitter: @LeoShane

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