Executive Order Ends Vietnam Combat Zone
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 20, 1996 Combat pay and special tax benefits end June 30 for U.S. service members assigned in Vietnam, although imminent danger pay will continue for duty in the Southeast Asian nation.
The change comes following President Clinton's executive order May 14 declaring Vietnam no longer a combat zone. Clinton's order repeals the one signed over 30 years ago by President Johnson.
Defense officials, in a recent information paper, said the combat zone designation remained in effect for service members missing from the conflict.
"With the passage of time since the last POW [prisoner of war] in Vietnam was declared dead and the presidents decision to normalize relations, the designation of a Vietnam combat zone was no longer necessary or appropriate," said the study.
Combat benefits are based on a service member's pay grade. After June 30, those benefits will drop to the standard $150 monthly imminent danger pay.
The biggest effect of the order is the end of tax benefits. Under current law, all enlisted and warrant officer pay earned in a combat zone is tax exempt. Commissioned officers serving in Vietnam, benefiting from a tax law change tied to Operation Joint Endeavor, could claim over $4,200 per month of their income tax-free.
The study adds that as relations with Vietnam government progress, more service members may see assignments to Vietnam. "Tax exclusions would be applicable unless the combat zone designation were terminated," said a spokesman with DoD's compensation office. "Vietnam no longer merits the designation."
Defense officials said only a handful of active duty service members are stationed in Vietnam, but 90-member DoD investigation teams travel to Vietnam about six times a year. Officials said those service members are eligible for imminent danger pay.
Only the Persian Gulf region remains as a designated combat zone. U.S. forces serving in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Croatia as part of Operation Joint Endeavor currently receive tax and monetary benefits "as if" they were in a combat zone.