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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — With a new price survey in hand, military officials will make a fresh pitch next month in Washington to increase the cost-of-living allowance for soldiers here.

More than 16,000 servicemembers completed an online COLA survey between January and now — 5,000 more than completed the first survey in April 2003, according to 8th Army officials. The survey gauges where and how much servicemembers spend off post for goods.

Col. Charles Kuyk, commander of the 175th Finance Command, will present the data to the Defense Department’s Per Diem Committee in the next few weeks, said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, 8th Army spokesman. The Per Diem Committee reviews the data and makes recommendation to the Military Advisory Panel, which votes on a recommended increase.

The panel meets twice a month; the next meeting is to be the first week in March, officials said.

On a radio talk show from Yongsan Garrison on Friday, Col. Timothy McNulty, the Area II commander, said the military in South Korea is hoping the pitch to the Per Diem Committee elicits a good response.

After years of complaints about not getting a COLA despite South Korea’s relative costliness, servicemembers here began receiving the payments in July 2003. Despite high costs commensurate with other countries such as Germany and Japan, no COLA ever was given U.S. troops here.

The COLA is designed to give servicemembers the same spending power as they would have in the United States. A COLA is given in an area outside the United States when the average cost of living there exceeds the average cost in the United States.

“The first phase of the process was completed last year for all servicemembers to receive COLA,” Boylan wrote in a statement to Stars and Stripes. “Now the process is in the next phase to ensure those stationed in Korea are receiving the proper amount of COLA at the proper index.”

Indexes are generated by comparing prices of about 120 goods in South Korea and the United States. The indexes are weighted and summarized to determine a location’s COLA index.

Currency fluctuations are entered into calculating the indexes, which can be adjusted every two weeks. Typically, lower won rates mean a better chance for a higher COLA.

The indexes for South Korea have varied only slightly since COLA started. Seoul’s index is the highest at 116, meaning the city is 16 percent more expensive than the average U.S. location.

Other areas include Camp Humphreys at 112; Chunchon, 112; Kunsan, 108; Osan, 112; and Taegu/Waegwan, 108.

Under this index, a sergeant living off-post in Seoul, with six years in the service and no dependents, would get COLA payments of $262.67 monthly, or $8.76 per day.

Each year, more than $1 billion is distributed worldwide in COLA payments to 320,000 servicemembers at 600 overseas locations, according to the Per Diem Committee Web site.


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