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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Six months after securing a first-ever cost-of-living allowance for servicemembers in South Korea, finance officials here are asking for help in making sure the pay adjustment accurately reflects local needs.

COLA, granted to servicemembers in South Korea this July, is paid when the average cost of living in an area outside the United States exceeds the average cost in America. The adjustment amount is set by a complex formula that includes retail prices for some 120 items; each overseas location is then given an “index” figure that ranks its prices compared to those in the United States.

The original index for locations in South Korea was set this year after nearly 11,000 servicemembers completed a living pattern survey through the 175th Finance Command.

Beginning in January, the command is conducting a second, online COLA survey to further clarify the figures used to determine the pay adjustment.

“Although senior leaders are proud of what USFK members helped them accomplish last year, they feel more can be done,” a 175th Finance Command press release read.

“Sharpening and refining the data gathered earlier this year is the main focus of the upcoming survey.”

Officials noted that over 99 percent of eligible servicemembers completed the survey earlier this year, a feat that itself helped to get the area COLA. Similar to that survey, the 2004 questionnaire will be accessible on the Internet at any time.

The survey will be posted on the 175th Finance Command’s Web site at http://175fincom.korea.army.mil.

“The true challenge that lies in filling out the COLA survey is capturing the ‘living patterns’ of the families and service members serving in Korea that resemble their living patterns in the United States,” the command’s release said.

“The most important point to emphasize is that answers should reflect true living patterns and not current buying activities, which may be affected by high costs and cultural barriers.”

About 320,000 servicemembers in 600 overseas locations get COLA, according to the Department of Defense Per Diem Committee.

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