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President Bush signed a wartime defense supplemental bill Wednesday that raises military Family Separation Allowance by $150 a month and Imminent Danger Pay by $75 a month, retroactive to Oct. 1, 2002.

Almost 200,000 servicemembers drawing Family Separation Allowance will see the pay jump from $100 a month to $250. Anyone eligible for FSA back through October will receive back pay as soon as military finance centers can implement the change.

At least 250,000 military personnel draw Imminent Danger Pay of $150 a month. That will rise, by 50 percent, to $225, and again the increase will be retroactive to October.

These increases constitute a kind of $800 million “thank you” to servicemembers from a grateful Congress. Rather than limit their gratitude to the warriors who drove Saddam Hussein from power, however, Congress raised the pay of any member assigned to a dangerous area overseas or forced to live away from family longer than 30 days at a stretch.

Many of the eligible will include attendees at stateside service schools, on temporary duty assignments or deployed aboard ship or with aircraft squadrons, regardless of theater.

For that reason, the Senate designed the special pay increases to expire Sept. 30, 2003, unless the Hill’s armed services committees, which will have more time to study the cost and logic of these changes, agree to make them permanent when they work to shape the fiscal 2004 defense authorization bill later this year.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced the special pays amendment as part of the $79 billion wartime supplemental bill. He did so in part to head off more costly proposals from colleagues anxious to show their support for the war.

“It’s a compromise position,” said a Capitol Hill source who described Stevens as nervous about the cost. “He didn’t want this to turn into a bidding war of who could do more for the troops.”

Stevens had warned colleagues against making the changes permanent in their rush to pass an emergency supplemental. New pay initiatives are under the jurisdiction of the armed services committees. Also the special pay initiatives could add hundreds of millions of dollars to future defense budgets, money the services might prefer to spend on other purposes.

“This is a large increase in costs for personnel and I fully support that,” Stevens said. If only this were a nation of billionaires, he added, “we could pay our military what they really deserve for being overseas, what they really deserve for their families when one or both parents are overseas.”

The House wartime supplemental made no mention of special pay increases but House members embraced the Senate plan when a conference committee met April 12 to work out bill differences. Defense officials suggested an alternative to raising FSA and IDP, arguing that most recipients will not have served in Iraq. Congress instead could raise Hostile Fire Pay, a more specific form of danger pay, which would end with hostilities. FSA, by contrast, will be paid at the higher rate whether or not there’s a war, and IDP is paid in many areas besides Iraq and Kuwait, including Bosnia and Kosovo.

In the end, Congress added $4 billion to the $74.7 billion emergency supplemental sought by President Bush. Twenty percent of that added cost can be traced to special pay raises.

The supplemental also broadens in two ways service authority to assist servicemembers who become ill or injured in the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

The first allows the services to buy for ill or injured returnees up to $250 in clothing, either because civilian attire is needed to return home on commercial aircraft or because uniforms were destroyed in combat or during medical treatment. The $250 is a procurement cap, not an allowance.

A second clarifying provision allows payment of travel allowances to family members who visit loved ones hospitalized for wounds or illness suffered in the war. Payment of family travel allowances had been based on a medical determination that such visits would improve a patient’s health. Now, said a Senate source, “it’s more of a morale and quality-of-life decision.”

Both clarifying provisions apply to members in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom.

Concurrent receipt update

House-Senate conferees on the 2004 budget resolution have rejected a Senate plan to phase out the ban on concurrent receipt of both military retired pay and disability compensation for the most seriously disabled retirees.

Struck from the budget blueprint was an amendment from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to end over five years the ban on concurrent receipt for retirees with disabilities rated 60 percent or higher. Reid hoped to cover the cost of more than $12 billion over 10 years using some of the $300 billion in tax savings sliced from Bush's economic stimulus package.

The administration still threatens to veto any concurrent receipt initiative. Many lawmakers also seem to agree that Congress should give the administration time to implement the new Combat Related Special Compensation before deciding what more to do on this issue.

CRSC regulations will be published this month and applications distributed soon to military retirees through retiree newsletters. CRSC will be the equivalent of full concurrent receipt for roughly 35,000 retirees, those with disabilities for which they received the Purple Heart and those with disabilities rated 60 percent or higher that can be tied to combat, combat training, hazardous duty or “instrumentalities of war.”

E-mail Tom Philpott at:

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