By the end of summer, we should know what the next military pay raise is going to look like. But enlisted personnel should be encouraged by the latest action taken by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. That subcommittee voted unanimously to reject the White House’s call to cap the 2014 military pay raise at 1 percent (versus the 1.8 percent needed to keep pace with recent private-sector wage increases. It is thought that the Senate committee working on these matters is more inclined to follow the White House’s recommendations, meaning there is work yet to be done.
It is no secret that Defense budgets are shrinking across the board. Each branch of the military is having to trim and pare down their budget requests. While the military projects fewer active service members, it appears that those with congressional oversight are fighting for cost-of-living increases for those on the government payroll. You can see the past and current military pay tables here.
The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel also blocked almost all of the Obama administration’s plans to increase TRICARE fees for military retirees and their families over the next five years.
“The Department of Defense does not have authority to raise any other fees within TRICARE and we are not granting them statutory authority to do so,” explained a press aide to Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the personnel subcommittee. “Chairman Wilson is committed to ensuring that our service members and retirees have the highest quality medical care as well as ensuring that DOD honors the commitments that have been made to current beneficiaries. ”
Wilson and staff said President Obama has the authority to cap the military pay raise without congressional approval. He only needs to claim serious economic conditions or national emergency to do so, and then to present Congress with an “alternative pay adjustment” plan by Sept. 1.
Wilson said he hopes the president won’t choose that path given bipartisan support for a full 1.8 percent military raise next January. He intimated that he and his associates on the committee feel like service personnel deserve the larger pay raise because of what they have been through and have been asked to accomplish in the last decade.
Planned defense cuts should total more than a trillion dollars over the next decade, including almost $600 billion in cuts mandated by the budget sequestration formula Congress and Obama devised to try to force a deal on reducing the nation’s debt.
Those currently on the military payroll have a friend in Rep. Wilson and the others on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. They want to preserve pay levels and increased pay levels for service personnel to aid in the on-going war on terrorism
New Provisions for Sexual Assault
The subcommittee approved the military personnel section of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill and referred it to the full committee for markup June 5, 2013. The bill also features initiatives to deal with rising incidents of sexual assault within the ranks through new whistle-blower protections and dedicated legal assistance for victims.
The draft also includes a host of measures designed to deal with sexual assault in the ranks, including new provisions to mandate dismissal for any service member found guilty of rape or attempted sexual assault, allow commanders to transfer assault victims away from their attackers, and require specially trained lawyers to provide help to all victims of sex-related offenses.
Pentagon officials have been scrambling to deal with the issue of sexual assault after a series of high-profile embarrassments in recent weeks. Earlier this month, The head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention office was charged with sexual battery, and an enlisted soldier leading similar programs at Fort Hood was accused of running a prostitution ring and assaulting women.
If you’ve missed it, a Defense Department annual report on sexual assault in the military showed a slight increase in reported crimes from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012. But the 3,374 assaults investigated represented only a small fraction of the estimated 26,000 assaults in the military in fiscal 2012—disturbing numbers that have been compiled from anonymous surveys.
Senate Reform Efforts Look Different
The Senate Armed Services Committee will prepare its own version of the defense authorization bill next month; the Senate version is anticipated to follow more closely the personnel cost controls proposed by the president. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, ranking Republican on the personnel subcommittee, has gone on record saying she will support higher TRICARE fees if they make the benefit more sustainable—a point military leaders argued while defending their 2014 budgets.
The staff of the House committee noted that TRICARE cost growth will be slowed this fall by Defense plans to end TRICARE Prime for 177,000 current enrollees living more than 40 miles from military treatment facilities. Those Prime provider networks will end, forcing retirees under 65 and their families to use TRICARE Standard, the less generous fee-for-service option.
Also on Oct. 1, beneficiaries 65 and older must have their maintenance medications for chronic conditions filled on base or through mail order rather than at local drug stores or supermarkets. It will begin as a pilot program but could become permanent, resulting in millions of dollars a year on pharmacy costs alone.
The House and the Senate will have to hammer out the final deal. It is too early to say what will stay and what will go in the inevitable compromise that will take place between the two. A final compromise version from the House and Senate isn’t expected until late 2013.