House committee bill includes pay, housing increases
Military Update focuses on issues affecting pay, benefits and lifestyle of active and retired servicepeople. Its author, Tom Philpott, is a Virginia-based syndicated columnist and freelance writer. He has covered military issues for almost 25 years, including six years as editor of Navy Times. For 17 years he worked as a writer and senior editor for Army Times Publishing Co. Philpott, 49, enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1973 and served as an information officer from 1974-77.
By Tom Philpott
The House Armed Services Committee has approved a defense bill for 2003 that sustains three productive trends for military people and their pay.
One trend by Congress is to increase basic pay and housing allowances at a pace that exceeds growth in private sector wages and off-base rental costs nationwide. A second is adding billions of dollars in benefits for military retirees. The third is to improve compensation of deployed military people. This year, the House panel voted for increases in a range of special pays and benefits.
Lawmakers and Defense leaders appear to be keeping their promise to close a perceived military pay gap with comparable civilian workers, and to reduce out-of-pocket housing costs for members living off base.
For 2003, the House committee adopted the Bush administration's request to give all service members at least a 4.1 percent raise next January, which is a half percentage point higher than a recent rise in private salaries. The committee also agreed with the Pentagon to give bigger increases, up to 8.5 percent, to some career enlisted and middle grade officers.
The House panel also agreed to raise Basic Allowances for Housing next January enough to reduce out-of-pocket rental costs from 11.3 percent of local rents down to 7.5 percent. New BAH rates will be published in December.
The House Armed Services Committee embraced a $5.8 billion plan by budget committee colleagues to phase out the ban on concurrent receipt for 82,000 retirees who have VA disability ratings of 60 percent or higher. Some retired pay would be restored next January and all of it by 2007.
Several lawmakers, acknowledging that retirees with disability ratings below 60 percent won't benefit, said the change must be seen as a first step.
Given the grueling pace of military operations since the Persian Gulf War, Congress has looked for ways to improve compensation for frequent family separations and dangerous assignments. Tax exemptions on income earned in hostile fire areas and special pay increases are two examples.
The House committee also voted to increase wartime special pays and benefits by $182.3 million annually. The benefits include an increase in imminent-danger pay to $250 a month; an increase in hazardous duty pays (i.e., demolition, diving, carrier deck and flight pay) by $50 a month; an increase in Family Separation Allowance to $125 a month; a doubling of the death gratuity for surviving family to $12,000.
These increases are not found in the defense authorization bill, but in separate legislation approved by the committee to finance the war on terrorism.
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