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What Congress Has in Store for You in 2008

2008 National Defense Authorization Act

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Updated February 04, 2008

Each year I wade through the annual National Defense Authorization Act and report to you what our congress-critters have passed in the way of military pay and benefit changes for the upcoming year. The bill this year was HR 1585. However, in a surprise move, the President vetoed the bill in late December (see related article ).

At the beginning of the legislative year, the Administration (that would be the President) submits to Congress his recommendations (a "proposal") for military pay and benefit changes for the upcoming year. The respective House and Senate Armed Forces Committees use the proposal as a basic starting point (each will add, delete, or change provisions) in order to arrive at their versions of the annual bill. Provisions in one version of the bill are often not included in another, treated differently, or, in certain cases, they are identical.

Once approved by the Armed Forces Committee, the version is voted on by the full House and full Senate. At this time, many changes, or "amendments" are submitted by various members and voted on by the entire floor as to whether said amendment should be included in their version. The bill then goes to a "compromise committee," composed of both members of the House and the Senate, to iron out the differences between the two bills. The agreed-upon compromise bill then returns to be voted on by the full House and full Senate. If passed by both the House and Senate, the bill goes to the President for signature (or to veto, if the President doesn't like the final version).

The House passed their version of the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act way back in May (2007). The Senate passed their version on Oct. 1 (2007). The two versions then went into compromise and a final bill was presented to the President in mid-December, which the President vetoed. After their Christmas break, Congress passed a new version (HR 4986), removing the provisions that the President disagreed with. The President signed the new version into law on January 28.

Here are the pay and benefit changes for 2008 which are now enacted into law:

Pay and Benefits

Basic Pay. Section 601 of the bill includes a 3.5 percent across-the-board raise in basic pay, effective January 1. Because of the delay in passing the bill, military members only saw a 3.0 percent pay raise (the minimum raise required by previous law) in their January pay checks, but will receive "back pay" in the mid-Feb pay. Unlike last year, there will be no "targeted" raises. According to military advocacy groups, the 2008 raise has reduced the "pay gap" between military pay and comparable civilian pay to about 3.4 percent. The gap peaked at 13.5 percent in 1999, but over the last nine years, a series of raises slightly above the annual increase in the Department of Labor's Employment Cost Index (ECI) has narrowed the gap considerably.

Housing Allowance. While not actually part of the Authorization Act, the annual Defense Appropriate Act ensured enough funding for Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) at at 100 percent of the average cost of housing expenses. Each year, the Department of Defense conducts surveys of the cost of housing for each area of the United States where military personnel reside. The surveys are then used to compute the BAH rates for the upcoming year. The average increase for 2008 BAH is 7.3 percent over 2007 rates. The new rates became effective on January 1.

Housing Allowance for Single Reserve Members. Section 602 of the new act authorizes the payment of Basic Allowance for Housing to Reserve members without dependents while attending accession training (basic training and job training), if they maintain a primary residence during the active duty period. This provision is effective for anyone shipping out to basic training on or after Feb. 1.

Hardship Duty Pay. Hardship Duty Pay (HDP) is compensation for the exceptional demands of certain duty, including unusually demanding mission assignments or service in areas with extreme climates or austere facilities. Last year's 2007 National Defense Authorization Act increased the maximum amount of HDP from $300 to $750 per month. Section 617 of the new bill raises the maximum amount of HDP to $1,500 per month, and allows the military to make lump-sum payments, if they choose. However, don't get your hopes too high. While Congress sets the MAXIMUM amount of HDP, actual rates (up to the maximum amount) are set by DOD, and DOD rarely authorizes the maximum. For example, in 2007, DOD had the authority to pay up to $750 per month in HDP, but the maximum amount they paid for any location was $150 per month. DOD has currently capped HDP to a maximum of $100 per month for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Combat Pay. Current law authorizes members to receive monthly combat pay (hazardous duty pay) of $225 per month when they are station or deployed to a designated combat zone. Section 351 of the act allows the military to pay up to $250 per month for service in designated combat zones. This section also authorizes an increased combat pay amount, up to $450 per month for any month where the member is assigned to a designated hostile fire area and is "exposed to a hostile fire event, explosion of a hostile explosive device, or any other hostile action, or is on duty during a month in an area in which a hostile event occurred which placed the member in grave danger of physical injury." Whether or not the services will take advantage of this extra pay authority remains to be seen.

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