A House subcommittee on military personnel is backing the Pentagon's request for troop cuts next year but is not on board with making retirees pay more for healthcare.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, said any changes to retirement or healthcare benefits needs to wait until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission submits a report next February.
For that same reason the subcommittee's budget also does not include a Pentagon requested cut in basic allowance for housing, or BAH, which Wilson said would translate into a 5 percent increase in housing costs for service members.
Even where the subcommittee conceded to the Defense Department's request to reduce end strength of the forces, it was not without "serious reservations," Wilson said.
"America remains at war today and will continue at some level of persistent conflict globally with a ruthless and committed enemy for the foreseeable future," he said.
The subcommittee's budget reflects the numbers requested by the service branches for 2015, including 490,000 soldiers, a reduction of 30,000, 184,100 Marines, making the Corps smaller by 6,100 leathernecks, and 310,900 airmen, which would be 16,700 fewer than in the active force now.
The Navy's end strength, 323,600, would remain unchanged from 2014.
After the Wednesday session Wilson issued a statement saying the panel's budget ensures that service members, veterans and their families will have the resources they need and deserve.
The full House Armed Services Committee will take up the budget next.
Wilson also said the budget will provide for additional reporting on suicide rates, in particular looking at the increase of suicide among special operations forces. Additionally, the bill provides for expanded reporting to cover suicides of immediate family members, and requires that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel order an assessment of the increasing rates.
On the issue of military sexual assault, the budget includes language that would make every commander's performance appraisal include an assessment of how the officer handled sexual assault cases and how unit members treat those who make allegations.
Wilson said the budget also authorizes an extension of bonuses and special and incentive pays designed to retain critical skills.
Additionally, in a move intended to save the Defense Commissary system, which the Pentagon plans to cut from $1.4 million annually to $400,000 by 2017, the subcommittee's bill calls for an independent review of the operation.
The review -- to be filed with Congress by next February -- would be a wide-ranging assessment of commissary operations. Among other things it would look at using variable pricing at stores to reduce the need for DoD funds, the possibility of getting more private label products into the stores and converting the system to one operating without DoD appropriations.
But Wilson noted in his statement after the session that the review also would look at reversing some of the cuts in the budget to the commissary system.
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