Neglected military pay slowly begins to improve

  • Tom Philpott / Military Update
  • Saturday, October 28, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

Old habits die hard, and that could explain the next complaint you hear from a military colleague about an "erosion of benefits." But in light of compensation gains approved by Congress over the past two years, the statement shouldn’t pass unchallenged.

Military pay still doesn’t stack up well against compensation offered by some burgeoning sectors of the U.S. economy. Pilots, skilled technicians and others continue to be enticed into civilian life by higher salaries, shorter workweeks, more creature comforts and reduced danger. Despite a tough recruiting environment, the military hasn’t received in recent years the kind of double-digit, catch-up raises that in 1980 and 1981 rescued the all-volunteer force.

For all of that, the competitive trend line for military compensation is rising, thanks to wide-ranging pay increases and benefit reforms passed in the year 2000 and 2001 defense authorization bills. As Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan, chief of naval personnel, explained in a recent interview, the services are in a "war for talent" and, with help, are becoming better armed.

Highlights from last year’s defense bill included January’s 4.8 percent pay raise and a commitment to set annual raises through 2005 a half percentage point above wage growth in the private sector. The services also got a targeted raise in July to "reform" the military pay table and a sharp boost in the value of military retirement for those who entered service for the first time on or after July 31, 1986.

Besides these gains, Congress last year pumped an added $225 million into Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), enhanced many special pays and bonuses, authorized a military tax-deferred Thrift Savings Plan and ended dual compensation penalties on retired officers working as federal employees.

In the fiscal 2001 defense bill, which President Clinton is expected to sign this month, Congress focused again on pay and allowances but also on health care benefits. As described in recent Military Updates, lawmakers passed a Tricare-for-Life package with enhanced pharmacy benefits that will cost an estimated $60 billion over the next decade.

The bill contains other improvements for service people including:

  • A 3.7 percent basic pay raise for Jan. 1, 2001.

  • A special July 1, 2001, raise for midgrade enlisted members. It will be $59 a month for E-7s, $51 a month for E-6s and $32 for E-5s.

  • Basic Allowance for Housing increases. As endorsed by Defense Secretary William Cohen, BAH rates will rise Jan. 1, and enough not only to keep pace with local housing costs but to reduce members’ out-of-pocket expense.

  • A special boost in junior enlisted BAH. By July 1, 2001, all members in grades E-1 through E-4 living live off base will fall under the same local BAH rate and that rate must be higher than current BAH for E-4s.

  • New authority for the Navy to pay BAH for the first time to single shipboard E-4s. Only single sailors in grade E-5 or above are allowed to live off ship while in homeport. The privilege will be extended to E-4s. The Navy plan is to allow them to live in barracks or, if unavailable, to receive BAH to rent off base. The Navy doesn’t expect to have money to start the program before October 2001 but it could begin moving some shipboard E-4s into barracks sooner than that.

  • Restructuring career sea pay. Sea pay used to equal 18 percent of regular military compensation. The value, through inflation, has slipped to 7 percent since 1988 when rates last were adjusted. When money becomes available, Navy officials said, they will use the new authority to boost sea pay.

  • Final authority to begin a military Thrift Savings Plan, to shelter from taxes up to $10,500 a year in basic pay or bonuses. The likely start date is Oct. 1, 2001.

  • Expansion of eligibility for special compensation for severely disabled retirees to include persons retired for disability by their service (Chapter 61 retirees). Initially, only severely disabled rated by the Department of Veterans Affairs qualified. Starting Oct. 1, 2001, an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people retired on disability from their own service will begin receiving payments of $100 to $300 a month. Payment will be automatic but they must meet all other program requirements. For example, they must have served at least 20 years before retiring and have a current disability rating of 70 percent or higher. Also, a rating of at least 70 percent must have been awarded within four years of retirement.

  • An increase in the ceiling on Special Duty Assignment Pay to $600 a month.

    The current maximum is $275 for most recipients, $375 for recruiters. Service and Defense officials still must decide how the higher ceiling should be used.

  • Flexibility in payment of officer and enlisted continuation bonuses including authority to replace annual payments with full lump amounts to improve sign up rates. The services are studying what to do with the new authority.

    As Congress adjourns, it leaves military problems unsolved like the intense pace of operations, shortages in spare parts, dwindling inventories of ships and aircraft. But recent votes on behalf of service people suggest the erosion of benefits has ended, and the war for talent has intensified.

    Talk to us

    > Give us your news tips.

    > Send us a letter to the editor.

    > More Herald contact information.

  • More in Local News

    Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

    Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

    A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

    Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

    The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
    Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

    The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

    A Mukilteo firefighter waves out of a fire truck. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Fire Department)
    EMS levy lift would increase tax bill $200 for average Mukilteo house

    A measure rejected by voters in 2023 is back. “We’re getting further and further behind as we go through the days,” Fire Chief Glen Albright said.

    An emergency overdose kit with naloxone located next to an emergency defibrillator at Mountain View student housing at Everett Community College on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    To combat fentanyl, Snohomish County trickles out cash to recovery groups

    The latest dispersal, $77,800 in total, is a wafer-thin slice of the state’s $1.1 billion in opioid lawsuit settlements.

    A giant Bigfoot creation made by Terry Carrigan, 60, at his home-based Skywater Studios on Sunday, April 14, 2024 in Monroe, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
    The 1,500-pound Sasquatch: Bigfoot comes to life in woods near Monroe

    A possibly larger-than-life sculpture, created by Terry Carrigan of Skywater Studios, will be featured at this weekend’s “Oddmall” expo.

    Deputy prosecutors Bob Langbehn and Melissa Samp speak during the new trial of Jamel Alexander on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Second trial begins for man accused of stomping Everett woman to death

    In 2021, a jury found Jamel Alexander guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Shawna Brune. An appellate court overturned his conviction.

    New Jersey company acquires Lynnwood Land Rover dealership

    Land Rover Seattle, now Land Rover Lynnwood, has been purchased by Holman, a 100-year-old company.

    Dave Calhoun, center, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Jan. 24. (Samuel Corum / Bloomberg)
    Boeing fired lobbying firm that helped it navigate 737 Max crashes

    Amid congressional hearings on Boeing’s “broken safety culture,” the company has severed ties with one of D.C.’s most powerful firms.

    Authorities found King County woman Jane Tang who was missing since March 2 near Heather Lake. (Family photo)
    Body of missing woman recovered near Heather Lake

    Jane Tang, 61, told family she was going to a state park last month. Search teams found her body weeks later.

    Deborah Wade (photo provided by Everett Public Schools)
    ‘We are heartbroken’: Everett teacher died after driving off Tulalip road

    Deborah Wade “saw the world and found beauty in people,” according to her obituary. She was 56.

    Snohomish City Hall on Friday, April 12, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Snohomish may sell off old City Hall, water treatment plant, more

    That’s because, as soon as 2027, Snohomish City Hall and the police and public works departments could move to a brand-new campus.

    Support local journalism

    If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.