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Abell Works To Improve Troop Pay, Housing, Healthcare

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2001 – DoD's new military and civilian personnel management chief said he is working to implement President Bush's budget proposals to improve service members' pay, housing and retired health care.

Charles S. Abell, sworn in May 8 as the assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, noted in a June 15 American Forces Information Service interview that he had hit the ground running when he arrived at the Pentagon last month.

President Bush announced during a Feb. 12 trip to Fort Stewart, Ga., that an additional $5.7 billion in the fiscal 2002 DoD budget would provide for three quality of life initiatives: increased military pay, better housing, and improved retiree health care.

"(They) were my first initiatives when I got here," said Abell, a former Army enlisted soldier and officer. About $1.4 billion in the 2002 budget request would provide a minimum of a 5 percent pay raise for all service members in January, Abell said, in addition to targeted pay raises for mid-level noncommissioned officers, captains and majors.

Defense Department civilian employees are now slated to get a 3.6 percent raise, but efforts are under way in Congress to make that across-the-board raise closer to the military's.

Abell said the targeted military pay raises reflect DoD findings that "show where we lag behind those comparable levels of authority in the private sector."

About $400 million is earmarked in the budget for construction and refurbishment of military housing, which will also enable DoD to "accelerate the privatization of housing, so that we can provide a higher quality of housing, sooner, to our military families," he said.

Single service members' housing needs will also be addressed, Abell said.

"We're making sure that some of that (housing) money" goes into improved housing for single service members, he added.

Abell said about $3.9 billion in the president's proposed budget will be used to improve health care for older military retirees.

"The president added money to the healthcare budget to accommodate the TRICARE For Life benefit," he said. "It goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2001, (and) it will allow those military retirees over the age of 65 to receive care from within the TRICARE system.

"We're very excited about that and very anxious to get it implemented. I'm confident that our military retirees will find a seamless transition to this very rich benefit," he added.

Abell said service members have earned better pay, housing, and retirement benefits.

"We ask both the service member and the family to sacrifice a lot," he said. "In return, we have to do everything we can to make their life better and to meet their needs."

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