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What Congress Has in Store for You in 2006

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Food Allowance. By law, Sustenance (BAS) is increased automatically each year, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, which is prepared by the Department of Agriculture each December. Based on data released in June, it looks like the raise to BAS will be somewhere around 2.2 percent. When the new rates are released, we will include them in our military pay charts. The new rates will be effective on January 1.

Payment of Meals While Hospitalized. Last year, Congress passed a temporary provision, precluding charging for meals in military hospitals for members hospitalization as a result of service in Iraq or Afghanistan, even if the member was receiving a monthly food allowance. The provision was set to expire on October 1, 2005. Section 607 of the new law, extends the provision for another year.

Supplemental Subsistence Allowance. In 2001, Congress approved a provision to authorize payment of $500 per month for military members who's income entitled them to food stamps (mostly junior enlisted members with large families). This was scheduled to expire in 2006, but Section 608 of the new law makes the provision permanent.

Concurrent Receipt. Section 663 of the bill includes a provision to authorize concurrent receipt of retirement pay and disability pay for all retired veterans (with a disability) if their disability rating is based on "employability" by the VA. This will become effective on October 1, 2009. If not passed, under the old law, it wouldn't become effective until October 1, 2013.

Serviceman's Group Life Insurance. Under a supplementary spending bill earlier this year, Congress approved increasing SGLI maximum coverage to $400,000. This provision, however, was set to expire on October 1, 2005, unless Congress approved to continue it in the 2006 Military Authorization Act. Section 613 of this bill makes the increase permanent, and the military must pay the premiums for the first $150,000 of coverage, for members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. A Senate proposal, which would have required that the spouse of married servicemembers be informed if the member elects a beneficiary other than the spouse, or elects less than the full coverage amount of $400,000, did not make it into the final version of the bill.

Death Gratuity. The supplemental spending bill allowed an increase in the military death gratuity (money which is paid to the family members immediately upon the death of a servicemember) to $100,000. This provision was set to expire, however, on October 1, and was only payable for deaths which occurred in combat zones, or under certain other conditions. Section 664 of the bill makes the $100,000 death gratuity payable for all members who die while on active duty.

Wounded Warrior Pay. Under current law, a military member who is hospitalized as a result of injuries incurred in a combat zone continues to receive imminent danger pay (combat pay) for up to three months during their hospitalization. Section 642 of the new law allows the military to pay a special pay of $430 dollars per month, for the entire stay of the hospitalization, instead. The law does not mandate this new payment, and leaves it up to the discretion of each military branch, so it is unclear which branches may decide to take advantage of this authority.

Retroactive Imminent Danger Pay. Section 636 of the new law allows the Secretary of Defense to retroactively designate an area as a combat zone and allow retroactive payments of imminent danger pay for those who were in the zone at the time designated. Under previous law, retroactive designations and payments are not allowed.

Assignment Incentive Pay. Last year, Congress authorized the services to pay up to $1,500 per month for military members who agree to serve in certain units or in certain locations. Section 628 increases the maximum amount the military is allowed to pay to $3,000 per month, and allows the military to pay in a lump-sum payment, instead of monthly (at the discretion of the military).

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