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Pay Hike, Expanded Military Benefits Among Budget Proposals

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2005 – A 3.1 percent military basic pay hike, higher housing allowances and more healthcare and educational benefits for the National Guard and Reserve are all part of the president's proposed fiscal 2006 defense budget unveiled here today.

The package of expanded benefits is part of what a senior defense official called a top priority in the president's $419.3 billion budget request: "taking care of our forces."

"People are our most important asset. We can't do anything without our folks," the official told Pentagon reporters. "Our forces are the best-trained and best-organized on the globe, and we maintain our commitment to them."

The proposed military pay raise reflects a continued trend in better compensation for servicemembers. Incorporating the 3.1 percent military increase, basic pay will be up 25 percent since fiscal 2001.

Federal civilian workers would receive a 2.3 percent pay hike.

The proposed budget provides a 4 percent increase in the basic housing allowance to reduce and, ideally, eliminate out-of-pocket costs for servicemembers living in private housing. "In the past, there was as much as an 18 percent out-of-pocket cost for our military," the defense official said. "And this budget sustains our no-out-of-pocket cost commitment."

The budget also keeps DoD on track in its effort to eliminate all inadequate military family housing units in the United States by fiscal 2007, and worldwide by fiscal 2009. "We are on track" with that effort, the defense official told reporters.

The proposed budget continues to extend privatization to improve military housing and to maximize DoD housing budgets. By the end of fiscal 2006, the official said, this effort is expected to have produced nearly 172,000 new high-quality family housing units during the past 10 years.

In terms of health care, the proposed budget increases funding for the Defense Health Program, with $20 billion in direct funding and $7 billion for military personnel supporting the program. Officials said this funding level will ensure continuing good health care for servicemembers and their families.

Guard and Reserve members will receive additional benefits as well, including expanded Tricare eligibility that provides health coverage up to 90 days before activation and 180 days after mobilization for most members. "This is a significant new benefit," the defense official said.

The budget also includes the GI Bill for Reservists, passed by Congress last year, to provide educational benefits for Guard and Reserve members who have been mobilized. These troops would qualify for up to 36 months of payments, from $400 to $800 a month, depending on the length of active service in support of a contingency operation.

Provisions for quality facilities also are also included in the budget package. The proposed budget funds 92 percent of maintenance requirements.

"So I think what we have here is a healthy benefit package," the official summarized. "We want to maintain our commitment to the forces of the United States."

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