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Leaders Propose Pay Hikes, Retirement Changes

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 1998 – DoD will work to close the gap between civilian and military pay and make the military retirement system more attractive, Defense Secretary William Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton said Oct. 22 in an interview with Armed Forces Radio and Television.

During the interview, Cohen said that a quality pay and retirement package will be his top legislative priority in fiscal 2000. Cohen strongly emphasized that he was not disappointed by Congress’ failure to pass retirement reform at the close of this year’s legislative session.

"It was very beneficial to us that we have more time in which we can work our way through how we are going to allocate the pay increase and retirement benefit change," Cohen said. "It’s important to get it done not only quickly, but to get it done right."

Shelton said DoD will work to ensure all service members who came into the service since 1986 will be covered by any change in retirement. "It’s too early to tell exactly how this will shape up, but that would be the intent," he said.

Confident that both the White House and Congress are poised to support new pay and benefit initiatives, Cohen said he will ask for a 4.4 percent across the board raise in 2000. In addition, DoD is also considering a targeted pay raise for mid-career non-commissioned and officer personnel whose salaries are significantly below their civilian counterparts.

Both leaders said that the current level of pay and benefits is increasingly having a negative impact on retention, especially at the mid-career level.

"We have to look at ways in which we can keep those who we’re losing, whose experience and expertise we need the most," Cohen said. Targeted pay raises are one way to meet that goal, he said, but added that DoD must also be concerned with other issues, such as medical care and housing. "It’s across the board that we’re looking at ways in which we can provide the kind of benefits and compensation, both financial and from a morale point of view, that will keep the very best and brightest in our military," Cohen said.

For example, Shelton said DoD is committed to making military life more predictable. He cited the establishment of the Joint Forces Readiness Review Council, which examines the optempo of low density, high-demand units to ensure that are not deployed more than 120 days a year without the defense secretary’s approval. Other measures include greater use of Guard and Reserve units and individual service efforts, such as the Air Force’s recent formation of the Air Expeditionary Force.

Shelton emphasized that these measures, while important, may not be enough to stem the loss of skilled military personnel. He said that this loss is significant, and "is forcing us to look at the traditional methods we used in the past and see if they are adequate to retain the type of force we are going to need to fight in the 21st century."

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