ARLINGTON, Va. — An increase in hardship duty pay is the logical choice for compensating servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan if Congress fails to extend boosts it made in April to special pays, officials said.

“If Congress does not extend the increase, we would take measures to be sure those in theater do not lose money, and yes, hardship pay is a big part of that,” said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary for Military Personnel and Policy.

As it stands, some servicemembers are getting $100 a month in hardship duty, below the $300 cap set by law, he said. The Pentagon could increase the amount of money to compensate for any decrease in other special pay, Carr said.

This fiscal year, boosts in imminent danger and family separation cost $210 million, and were paid to all servicemembers who fell in the category, not to just those serving in the Middle East.

A boost in the hardship duty pay for the same time frame and limited to those deployed to that theater would have cost $60 million a year, Carr said.

Pentagon leadership came under sharp criticism last week when word circulated that defense leadership did not endorse extending the pay increases to those deployed troops.

In April, Congress approved an increase of $150 a month for those collecting family separation allowance and $75 a month in imminent danger pay; making those pays retroactive to October, and having the increases expire Sept. 30. The imminent danger pay was raised from $150 a month; and family separation allowance from $100 to $250 a month.

“We have no intention of cutting their pay and we never have,” Carr said of nearly 160,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“At this point, we’re awaiting Congressional action,” Carr said. “It all depends on their intent. If they want to raise all boats, that’s what they’re doing, especially with FSA,” he said, using a cliché to mean paying all servicemembers who are separated from their families for more than 30 days.

“Whether that’s sea trial or even TDY from Fort Bragg to Orlando for two months of training, they still see benefits from the FSA increase.”

“It doesn’t mean we don’t like it, if the purpose is to scratch the big itch,” Carr said of the congressional boost.

“We don’t know if Congress wants to scratch the big itch or the little itch. If it’s the little itch, there’s a better ointment that is cheaper.”

Congress is in recess and will return in September.

In a hastily arranged press briefing Aug. 14 to address the reports, David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said Congress’ measure was like “using a sledgehammer to hit a small nail,” meaning it wasn’t the best method to reward troops enduring the rigorous operational tempo and the harsh conditions of the Middle East.

“There is no intention of allowing compensation for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to fall,” Chu said.

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