Shutdown Snarls Troop Bonuses, Tuition Assistance

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Troops will still get regular paychecks amid the government shutdown, but may not receive other important forms of compensation, from tuition assistance to imminent danger pay.

Many federal agencies, including the Defense Department, began sending employees home and closing offices Tuesday after Congress missed a midnight deadline to pass a budget for fiscal 2014.

While lawmakers voted at the last minute to continue paying active-duty troops after Oct. 1, the broader financial implications of a government shutdown on military personnel became apparent after the services suspended tuition assistance and limited certain bonuses.

"We had all hoped to avoid this scenario and further hope that it will be short-lived, wanting to get back to normal operations as quick as possible," Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel, wrote in a post on the Navy's official blog. "None of us know for sure how long this shutdown will last, but to alleviate some of your anxiety and address some of you questions, below is what we know to date."

In the memo, the Navy initially said service members will receive basic pay and allowances for subsistence and housing, but that other types of compensation, including danger pay, will be delayed -- affecting the nearly 60,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

However, citing "new guidance," the service later changed this section to specify the bonuses and incentive pays that "will be limited" during the shutdown. As for special and incentive pays such as imminent danger pay, hardship duty pay and hazard duty pay, the updated memo stated, "Payment of all military pay and allowances is authorized -- provided funds are available from the Treasury."

The confusion apparently stemmed from how officials at the Pentagon and staffers on Capitol Hill were interpreting the troop-pay legislation, which doesn't specifically mention bonuses or other forms of military compensation.

"Our stance is that when the legislation said pay, it means all types of pay, not just basic pay," Claude Chafin, a spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee, led by Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said in a telephone interview. "That's our interpretation."

Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, didn't respond to multiple phone calls and an e-mail requesting comment. But he reportedly said the Defense Department has not made a final decision as to whether service members will receive danger pay and similar incentive pays.

Meanwhile, tuition assistance for classes starting on or after Oct. 1 has been suspended until further notice, according to an "urgent" notice on the Army website.

"Effective 1 October, all Soldier accounts in GoArmyEd have been placed on hold and they will not be able to process any new TA requests," the notice states.

The Navy post includes similar information, noting that tuition assistance won't be available until "funding is released." While all Navy College offices will be closed and no counseling or education services will be available, "college courses taught on base should go as scheduled," it states.

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