Congress has (finally) passed the 2006 Defense Authorization Act, HR 1815, and has sent it to the President to be signed into law. Last Friday, the President signed the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act, and is expected to sign the Defense Authorization Act before the end of the week.
The yearly Defense Appropriations Act provides the funding for the military services to operate, and the Defense Authorization Act tells the Department of Defense exactly what they are allowed to spend that money on.
Political fighting over the joint legislation delayed its congressional passage until just before Christmas, including controversial language regarding rules rules governing the use of torture by U.S. troops, when interrogating captives.
So, exactly what does Congress have in store for our military troops in 2006?
Congress approved a 3.1 percent across-the-board increase in military basic pay. This is the second year in a row that Congress has elected to increase base pay across-the-board, instead of targeting different percentages to certain year/rank groups. In 2004, the average pay raise was 4.1 percent, but some members received as little as 3.7 percent, while others received as much as 6.25 percent. Last year (2005) the pay increase was an across-the-board raise of 3.5 percent. This year's raise is about one-half of a percent above the rise in the Employment Cost Index which measures average civilian pay increases. This brings the "pay gap" between average military pay and average civilian wages down to 4.6 percent. As always, the raise will be effective on January 1, 2006, which means military members will see the raise in their January 15 paychecks.
Reservist Income Replacement. Section 910 of the legislation requires the military to make up the difference (up to $3,000 per month) between a member's average civilian salary and his/her military salary, when called to active duty under certain circumstances.
A reserve component member is entitled to a payment under this section for any full month of active duty of the member, resulting from an involuntary mobilization order, following the date on which the member--
(1) completes 18 continuous months of service on active duty under such an order;
(2) completes 24 months on active duty during the previous 60 months under such an order; or
(3) is involuntarily mobilized for service on active duty for a period of 180 days or more within six months or less following the member's separation from a previous period of involuntary active duty for a period of 180 days or more.
To qualify, Guard and Reserve members would have to make at least $50 per month less in military pay than they were making in their civilian job.
Housing Allowance. As with last year, Congress has decided to continue to fund Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), so that it pays 100 percent of the costs for an average rental in a given area. The new rates are effective on January 1, which means members will see the change in their January 15 paychecks.
Individual housing allowance rates are determined from DoD surveys of average housing costs in individual areas. The average increase for 2006 is 5.9 percent. Locations which saw the largest increases are: Edwards AFB, CA, Key West, FL, Honolulu County, HI, Kingston/Saugerties, and NY, Long Island, NY. Some areas saw a drop in rates. The areas with the larges decrease in BAH rates are: New Haven/Fairfield, CT, Boston, MA, Brockton/South Weymouth, MA, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA, and Brownsville, TX. Military members currently assigned to those areas, will continue to receive the 2005 rates. The new (lower) rates only affect those being assigned to the areas after January 1.
Reserve Housing Allowance. Under current law, Reserve members on active duty for less than 140 days receive BAH II. BAH II is not based on location and pays substantially less than the active duty BAH. Section 610 of the bill requires the military to pay Reserve members the same housing allowance rate as their active duty counterparts anytime they are called or ordered to active duty for more than 30 days. In most instances, members called or ordered to active duty for a period of 30 days or less, will continue to receive BAH II.