The U.S. military expects to save $22 million annually through recent cuts to the reimbursement rate for long term temporary duty (TDY) assignment expenses, officials said.
But that announcement has sparked warnings among military family watchdog groups that such penny pinching could negatively impact families.
"It bothers us to see DoD trying to balance the budget on the backs of troops," said Rebekah Sanderlin, a spokesman for Keep Your Promise, a grassroots military advocacy group. "Personnel is not the problem. There are a lot of cuts that can be made before we start cutting pay."
The cuts, which went into effect Nov. 1, impact those on long term TDY assignments. Service members on temporary duty for 31 to 180 days will receive a flat-rate per diem of 75 percent of the full rate, which varies by location.
Those assigned for longer than 180 days will receive 55 percent of the rate. Cuts were also made Oct. 1 to reimbursements that apply to all TDY lengths. For example, laundry services are no longer reimbursable following the change to policy.
The changes were meant to encourage service members assigned to locations for long periods of time to find cost efficient housing, vehicle and meal solutions, the release said.
"If you know you're going to be TDY for a period in excess of a month and up to 180 days, DoD and the services expect you to plan accordingly. You don't plan as if you're going to be gone a few days. You have a long-term focus and should make long-term arrangements to where you can absorb a 25-percent cut," said Larry Lock, the Army's head of compensation and entitlements.
Army officials anticipate saving $9 million annually through the cuts.
The rate cuts are of special concern to troops in units that do frequent long temporary assignments such as Special Forces. Because of security concerns, Special Forces soldiers are often required to stay in higher scale hotels or lodging than are covered by the lower rates.
Many in the community also carefully track their nutrition, making food costs higher. And Special Forces also frequently are required to wear civilian business attire while on assignment, causing dry cleaning bills that are no longer covered by the government.
"This is such bag issues in the Special Forces community. Everybody is talking about it, everybody is freaking out about it," said one Army Special Forces spouse who spoke on condition of anonymity.
That spouse said her husband is currently on a four month temporary assignment overseas. He is sharing a furnished apartment with another soldier, but had to purchase all cooking utensils and pantry staples when he arrived.
"We will not get what it costs him to be there," she said "I don't know how much we're going in the hole, but this try is a losing a deal for us for sure."
Defense Department officials have said that the rate reduction can be appealed if needed by individual service members. But the spouse worried that appeal will never result in action.
"It says they can appeal, but once again that puts the onus on the soldier," she said. "Anyone who has ever had issues with pay knows how difficult to get your money back once the DoD has it."
Military family advocates said they hope military officials are monitoring the cuts to see how they impact both Special Forces families and others.
"Families shouldn't be eating the cost of travel," said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. "DoD needs to be prepared to adjust it and adjust quickly."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.Bushatz@military.com