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The Battle Over Benefits
Stars and Stripes  |  By Leo Shane III  |  December 12, 2005
WASHINGTON - Arguments over torture regulations and an Iraq exit date have stalled the Defense Authorization Bill in Congress for months, but the bill also contains dozens of military benefit issues that must be settled before the final draft can be passed.

The $441 billion-plus bill outlining fiscal 2006 military spending has language reauthorizing a host of bonuses, pay increases and specialty pay adds and dozens of other items likely to have an impact on troops’ paychecks. Congress already has approved a 3.1 percent pay raise for military personnel in January, but the fate of other benefits is still up in the air.

Negotiators will scramble this week to finalize a compromise bill before the end of the year. Leaders from both chambers have said they expect a vote by the end of the week, when Congress’ Christmas break is set to begin.

Here’s a look at some of the issues under consideration.

Military Pay

Hardship duty pay

Now: The pay is given based on rank to compensate servicemembers living in foreign countries with a much lower standard of living. The maximum troops can receive is $300 a month.

House proposal: Raises the monthly cap from $300 to $750.

Senate proposal: No change.

Savings incentives

Now: Servicemembers can put aside a portion of their paychecks through the Thrift Savings Plan, but receive no government match for their contributions.

House proposal: No change in the Thrift Savings Plan.

Senate proposal: Create a pilot program to provide a savings match for troops who put aside money in the TSP, up to 5 percent of their paychecks.

Foreign language pay

Now: Troops proficient in foreign languages can receive up to $300 a month as an incentive to keep their language skills current.

House: Changes proficiency pay from a monthly stipend to an annual bonus of up to $12,000.

Senate: Same change.

Bonuses

Active duty re-enlistment

Now: Troops with less than 16 years in can re-up for multi-year tours with either of the services and receive up to $60,000.

House: Raises maximum from $60,000 to $90,000 for troops with less than 20 years experience.

Senate: Raises the maximum from $60,000 to $75,000 for some sailors with between 10 and 14 years experience.

Reserve enlistment

Now: Troops with prior military service can receive up to $8,000 for a multi-year commitment to the reserves.

House: Creates a new $15,000 for troops with less than 20 years experience who agree to a three-year stint in the reserves.

Senate: No changes.

Transfer bonuses

Now: Sailors and airmen can transfer to the Army without boot camp through the “Blue to Green” program, and bonuses are available for certain specialties.

House proposal: No new bonuses.

Senate proposal: Creates a new $2,500 bonus for all troops in the “Blue to Green” program.

Health Care

Tricare for reservists

Now: Reservists receive Tricare benefits after 30 days on active duty and can pay for some Tricare benefits for a limited time after their mission is finished.

House proposal: Extends enrollment in Tricare Reserve Select to drilling reservists.

Senate proposal: Extends Tricare Reserve Select to all reservists, regardless of duty status.

Tricare for military children

Now: Children of troops killed on active duty receive a month of Tricare coverage.

House proposal: No change in coverage.

Senate proposal: Children of troops killed while on active duty would receive Tricare coverage until they turn 21.

Death and Injury

Death payouts

Now: Families of troops killed in combat zones receive a $100,000 payout under temporary Legislation approved last spring.

House proposal: Permanently raise the death gratuity to $100,000, but limit it to only troops killed in combat.

Senate proposal: Permanently raise the gratuity to $100,000, but make it apply to all troops killed on active duty.

Pay for injured troops

Now: Wounded troops receive $225 in imminent danger pay, given for service in a combat zone, for the first three months of their hospital stay.

House proposal: Create a new $430 monthly payout for injured troops while they recuperate.

Senate proposal: Allow troops to receive their $225-per-month imminent danger pay as long as they are recovering in a hospital.

Sound Off...What do you think? Join the discussion.

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