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Dorn Says 1997 Defense Budget Will Take Care of Troops

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 13, 1996 – DoD's fiscal 1997 budget will continue providing quality of life enhancements, the defense department's personnel and readiness chief said.

Defense Undersecretary Edwin Dorn said the $243.4 billion budget allows Defense Secretary William Perry to fulfill commitments he has made to the forces. "He's promised to take care of troops, and the budget contains the quality of life enhancements and the pay raises that are part of taking care of our people," said Dorn.

Topping the list of enhancements is a 3 percent rise in pay and housing allowance for all service members. If Congress approves, the raise takes effect Jan. 1, 1997.

In addition to pay increases, Dorn said DoD is focusing on housing initiatives for military families and single service members. He said most of these housing programs began a couple of years ago when Perry diverted money from modernization accounts to enhance quality of life initiatives. These included a special costofliving allowance for those living in highrent areas and housing renovation projects at military bases.

For fiscal 1997, DoD plans to continue improving housing programs. It plans to construct 2,300 homes, improve 4,100 units on stateside and overseas installations and provide funds for child development centers and 13 community support facilities. DoD also plans building or modernizing 208 dormitory buildings by 2001 and spending nearly $20 million for family housing in conjunction with the private sector.

With the military personnel drawdown nearly complete, Dorn said many of the separation programs offered in the early 1990s will gradually stop. "Those programs are going to remain in place until we are at our target number," said Dorn of Voluntary Separation Incentive and Special Separation Benefit. "Once DoD finishes its drawdown, we will not need to pay people to leave the force. We'll allow VSI and SSB to lapse."

Dorn said DoD will keep transition assistance programs going initiatives started at the height of the defense drawdown. For fiscal 1997, DoD is programming $39.9 million to help service members return to the civilian sector.

"I think we're being a smart employer by maintaining a lot of these transition programs [such as] job counseling and some of the computerized job bulletin boards," said Dorn. "I think it's important for us to do that every employer ought to provide transition programs like that. DoD happens to be a leader in transition, and we'll keep those in place."

While DoD is budgeting to help people leave the service, it is also hoping to bring more people in. To do that, DoD is programming $2.1 billion to recruiting support and advertising efforts.

Dorn said adjustments in recruiting efforts are already helping to bring quality people into the services. "Propensity [to enlist by 18yearolds] is actually up a little bit from [fiscal] 1994 to 1995," he said. "Recruiting is tough, and recruiters are working very, very hard, but they are getting the job done."

To help recruiters, Dorn said DoD plans to continue advertising efforts, placing special efforts on women and minorities. "Last year, we had a major advertising campaign aimed toward women," said Dorn. "We plan to continue those efforts this year."

Dorn said he would also like to see greater equity across the services toward educational benefits. Each service maintain its own budgets on education assistance programs like tuition assistance for college courses.

The DoD budget will also maintain health care and commissary benefits for military personnel. With fewer active duty personnel needing health care and TRICARE in place in some regions, DoD's health care budget dropped from $9.8 billion in fiscal 1996 to $9.4 billion in fiscal 1997.

With these budget recommendations, Dorn said he feels DoD has the most robust quality of life program the Defense Department has ever had. "What we see in the budget is a fulfillment of the secretary's commitment," said Dorn. "It continues bringing good people in the force, it sees they're trained to a very high state of readiness and treats them fairly."

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