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WASHINGTON — Thursday's passage of the 2006 Defense Authorization Bill finalizes a series of pay and health benefits for military personnel for the coming year.

The $453-plus billion bill, setting fiscal 2006 military spending, includes language upping the Army’s end strength by 10,000 and the Marines by 1,000, and commits another $50 billion in supplemental funding to military operations overseas.

When signed by President Bush, the bill will authorize a 3.1 percent pay raise for all military personnel, effective January 1.

Among the other changes coming next year:

Military pay

Hardship duty pay

Now: The pay is given, based on rank, to compensate servicemembers living in foreign countries with a lower standard of living. The maximum troops can receive per month is $300 a month.

New bill: Raises the $300 cap to $750 per month

Savings incentives

Now: Servicemembers can put aside a portion of their paycheck through the Thrift Savings Plan, but receive no government match for their contributions.

New bill: Creates an Army pilot program to provide a savings match for soldiers who put aside money in the TSP, up to 5 percent of their paychecks.

Foreign language pay

Now: Troops proficient in foreign languages can receive up to $300 a month, as an incentive to keep their language skills current.

New bill: Makes those payouts available either as a monthly stipend or an annual bonus, at the servicemember’s discretion.

Reservist income replacement

Now: Reservists called to active duty are paid based on military grades, and no program exists to cover gaps between their normal civilian paychecks and military salary.

New bill: Allows reservists with 18 consecutive months on active duty to receive up to $3,000 to cover the civilian/military pay gap.

BonusesActive duty re-enlistment

Now: Troops with less than 16 years experience can re-up for multiyear tours with each of the services, and receive up to $60,000.

New bill: Raises maximum from $60,000 to $90,000 for troops with less than 20 years experience.

Reserve enlistment

Now: Troops with prior military service can receive up to $8,000 for a multiyear commitment to the reserves.

New bill: Increases that cap to $20,000.

Referral bonus

Now: No bonus is given to troops who recommend military service to civilian contacts.

New bill: Creates a $1,000 bonus for soldiers, Army guardsmen and reservists who refer a non-family member to an Army recruiter. The recruit must complete basic training for the bonus to be paid.

Transfer bonuses

Now: Sailors and airmen can transfer to the Army without boot camp through the “Blue to Green” program, and bonuses are available for certain specialties.

New bill: Creates a new $2,500 bonus for all troops in the “Blue to Green” program, on top of any specialty-related bonus.

Health and readinessTricare for reservists

Now: Reservists receive Tricare benefits after 30 days on active duty and can pay for some Tricare benefits for a limited time after their mission is finished.

New bill: Extends some Tricare benefits to all reservists, regardless of duty status, who commit to stay in the reserves for a multiyear tour.

Tricare for military children

Now: Children of troops killed on active duty receive three years of Tricare coverage.

New bill: Extends that Tricare coverage to until the children turn 21.

Enlistment age

Now: The maximum age for new recruits for the services is 35.

New bill: Raises that enlistment age to 42, at the service’s discretion.

Death and InjuryDeath payouts

Now: Families of troops killed in combat zones receive a $100,000 tax-free payout under temporary legislation approved last spring.

New bill: Makes the gratuity permanent, for all troops killed on active duty.

Pay for injured troops

Now: Wounded troops receive $225 in imminent danger pay, given for service in a combat zone, for the first three months of their hospital stay.

New bill: Creates an alternative $430 monthly payout for injured troops while they recuperate.


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