ARLINGTON, Va. — In addition to the guaranteed 3.5 percent basic pay raise and elimination of out-of-pocket expenses for housing, the Pentagon is banking on lawmakers approving additional pay and benefits for U.S. servicemembers.
Troops could see a permanent boost to the Family Separation Allowance and an increase in Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay; those overseas could get a lump-sum payout for nonrecurring expenses such as the television tax in England.
The raise and housing expenses relief became certain Aug. 5 when the president signed the $417.5 billion 2005 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which funds the Pentagon’s core programs and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the Defense bill is approved by Congress and signed by the president in two portions: the Appropriations Act, which allocates money; and the Authorization Act, which gives the Pentagon the authority to spend it.
Both houses of Congress work on their own versions of the two, and lawmakers will begin haggling over differences in the Authorization bills after Labor Day.
Meantime, Defense compensation experts have listed some measures in the “highly likely” category: provisions included in both houses’ Authorization bills, but which still must pass the full Congress and be signed by the president.
They include a permanent increase in the FSA from $100 to $250 a month, no matter if separation takes a family member away from home for 30 days or more to a stateside training facility or to the combat zone, said Air Force Col. Virginia Penrod, director of Military Compensation.
Pentagon budget officials opposed the FSA increase and sought instead to boost the Hardship Duty Pay that would compensate everyone deployed to war zones, whether married or single, Penrod said.
They are seeking an HDP boost from a maximum $300 a month to $750 a month. That request is in the “possible” column as it appears in the House version but not the Senate, Penrod said.
Compensations officials also are fairly sure troops eligible to get Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay will see an increase from $150 to $225 a month.
For those living overseas who have to pay incidental costs upfront, such as a television tax and car tax in England, compensation officials want to provide COLA payments upfront to cover those nonrecurring expenses, instead of reimbursing troops for those up-front expenses little by little over months, she said.
Also fairly certain to be cleared in passage is upwards of a $60,000 bonus to attract Reserve officers into critical skill areas.
The compensation officials wish list of “possible” incentives includes money to let any hospitalized servicemember continue to collect the Basic Allowance for Substance and forgo paying the daily $8.10 for hospital meals, in essence double-dipping.
Before an outcry from lawmakers that led to changes, troops wounded or who became ill, even while fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, had to pay $8.10 a day for meals while recuperating at military hospitals if they were collecting the BAS.
Also in the House version is a $250 allotment per member to buy civilian clothes if he or she is medically evacuated from combat zones. Troops have often landed in the United States with nothing more than a hospital robe, Penrod said.
The House version also includes a provision to let servicemembers take up to three months advance of basic pay when deploying to a combat zone, and defers repayment of that advance until they return.
The Senate version has a clause that would increase the death gratuity each year by the same percentage amount as the basic pay raise. Last year, the Pentagon doubled the gratuity to $12,000.