Bill provides substantial pay, expense increases
By Tom Philpott
With the New Year, military people will see hefty increases in pay and housing allowances but also higher travel reimbursements and, for families of senior enlisted and officers, enhanced survivor benefits if members die while on active duty.
The 2002 defense authorization bill, now awaiting the President's signature, cleared a House-Senate conference committee in mid-December with a few surprises to improve military quality of life.
Here are highlights:
Pay raises Effective Jan. 1, basic pay for active duty, Guard and Reserve members will rise at least 6 percent for enlisted, 5 percent for officers. That is the base raise. Some enlisted will receive up to 10 percent and some officers as much 6.5 percent. Most warrant officers will get 8 or 8.5 percent raises.
Basix allowance for housing As reported last week, BAH for members living off base in stateside areas will rise an average of 10 percent on Jan. 1. Individual rates can checked on line at: www.dtic.mil/perdiem/bahform.html
Travel pay Government reimbursements during permanent change-of-station moves will rise sharply over the next two years, enough so that member out-of-pocket costs for such moves will fall from an average of 40 percent of total travel costs to less than 10 percent. Some travel pay gains will start Jan. 1, 2002. The rest will take effect a year later. Here's what to expect next month:
The Temporary Lodging Expense Allowance will rise by more than 60 percent, from $110 a day to $180. Members get up to 10 days TLE when forced to live in temporary quarters at the start or end of a stateside move.
Members moving to initial duty assignments will get a dislocation allowance of more than $1,300. The lump-sum payment defrays travel expenses for which no other reimbursement is authorized.
One member of any service couple member married to another member will be authorized DLA when moving into government housing. Neither member now qualifies for DLA if they have no other dependents.
A partial DLA of $500 a month will be paid to members ordered out of base quarters for renovation or repairs.
The maximum pet quarantine reimbursement will double, from $275 per move to $550, for pet owners reassigned outside the continental United States. Quarantine fees can be steep, particularly in Hawai'i and England.
Military travelers will be allowed advance payment of vehicle storage fees.
The shipment of one vehicle per family will be allowed within the continental United States if determined to be more cost effective to the government than reimbursing mileage costs for driving to new duty site.
These travel pay improvements are set to take effect Jan. 1, 2003, if financed:
The military's flat rate per diem will be replaced by a more generous formula used for federal civilian reassignments. The current military rate of $50 would jump to a maximum of $85; the dependent 12 and older rate of $37.50 will rise to a maximum of $63.75, and per diem for children under 12 will climb from $25 to a maximum of $42.50.
For the first time, members in pay grades E-4 and below will be paid Basic Allowance for Housing while traveling or on leave between assignments.
Enlisted in grades E-4 and below will be able to ship more household goods at government expense. Current weight allowance ceilings of 1,500 to 3,500 pounds for junior enlisted without dependents will be raised to 5,000 pounds for grades E-1s through E-3s, and 7,000 pounds for E-4s. For married junior enlisted, current ceilings of 5,000 to 7,000 pounds will be raised to 8,000.
Active duty SBP Retroactive to Sept. 10, the Survivor Benefit Plan will be amended to benefit survivors of members who die on active duty, including those who do so before completing 20 years, the threshold for immediate retirement. Survivors of those who die on active duty will be eligible for SBP as though members had retired on total disability the day of their death. Total disability means the member's annuity would have been 75 percent of basic pay, and that the SBP beneficiary draws 55 percent of that amount until it falls, at age 62, to 35 percent.
Currently, members who die on active duty and who have 20 or more years of service have an inferred annuity based on length of service, which for the 20-year member would amount to 50 percent of basic pay. So survivors under the new law stand to see a sharp gain with the annuity for total disability at 75 percent.
But the change will mean even more to survivors of members who die with less than 20 years served. Currently, if these members die instantly, loved ones get no portion of retired pay. Yet if members survive for even a short time, the services try to medically retire them, which will trigger SBP benefits.
Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Dan Inouye (D-Hawai'i) successfully fought to end the disparity in SBP eligibility tied to rapidity of death. But the change won't benefit all families who lose active duty members. That is because survivors also can receive VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and SBP must be offset, dollar-for-dollar, by DIC payments. Therefore, for survivors of junior and mid-grade enlisted, tax-free DIC will block payment of any SBP. Indeed, only survivors of members in pay grade E-7 or higher stand to gain benefits from the Hutchison amendment. But in a statement, the senator also noted that the bill ends the need for medical personnel to "go to extraordinary lengths" to keep mortally wounded people alive until paperwork is completed to benefit their families.
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