5 Things to Start Your Week from Military.com

Congress and troops

Here are five news stories and events to start your week, from the editors at Military.com.

1. Senate to Vote on 2.1% Troop Pay Raise

The U.S. Senate this week is expected to vote on a 2.1 percent troop pay raise for 2017 as part of the $619 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending goals for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The House on Friday approved the measure days after lawmakers from both chambers negotiated a compromise version of the bill. The Senate had previously agreed with the White House to increase troop pay next year by 1.6 percent. The House, however, pushed for a 2.1 percent increase in pay in keeping with private-sector wage growth. If the Senate passes the legislation -- which is very likely -- and President Barack Obama signs it into law, the raise will mark the first time in five years the basic pay raise matched wage hikes nationwide. The military pay raise is separate from the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for veterans, military retirees and recipients of VA disability compensation. That figure, based on the Consumer Price Index, is set for 0.3 percent in 2017.

2. After Tapping Mattis for Defense, Will Trump Pick Petraeus for State?

As expected, President-elect Donald Trump announced he plans to nominate retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for secretary of defense. After the formal announcement for Mattis -- set for today -- Trump may next turn his attention next to the position of secretary of state. He's reportedly still considering retired Army Gen. David Petraeus for the post, along with several other candidates, including retired Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis; Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City; Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and the 2012 Republican presidential candidate; Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee; and John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush administration; among others. Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Petraeus "paid a price" after pleading guilty to mishandling classified information. "The president-elect will weigh that against the backdrop of an extraordinary career in military service, whether it's in the role of secretary of state or another role in this administration," Pence said.

3. Army Corps of Engineers Blocks Route of Dakota Pipeline

The U.S. Army won't grant an easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota, effectively halting construction on the project to study other routes. The service's announcement on Sunday evening came after many veterans joined several hundred protesters who encamped near the construction site in a bid to halt the project. Critics said the development could pollute drinking water of a local Native American tribe and threatens treaty rights. Most of the nearly $4 billion, 1,172-mile-long pipeline from oil production fields in North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois is nearly complete. Even so, the Army said it won't approve an easement to allow the line to cross under Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River, in North Dakota, about a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation. "Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," said Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army's assistant secretary for civil works.

4. Vets Groups to Meet Again With Trump Transition Team

Members of the "big six" veteran service organizations -- including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and American Veterans -- plan to meet again with officials from the president-elect's transition team. The meeting, set for Friday, follows a bigger one held last week in which 30 veterans groups sat down with about 10 members of Trump's team, including Omarosa Onee Manigault, a chaplain in the California State Military Reserve who appeared on the NBC show "The Apprentice" starring Trump. During the roughly two-hour meeting behind closed doors, the organizations outlined their priorities for the incoming administration, including opposing any push to privatize the Veterans Affairs Department. "The American Legion absolutely opposes privatization," Executive Director Verna Jones told Military.com afterward. "We strongly advocate for a healthy VA health care system for veterans." While Trump has said he would not seek to privatize the VA, he's expected to push for a major shake-up at the department.

5. Before Buying Property, Check the VA's New Loan Limits for 2017

The Veterans Affairs Department has announced loan limits for 2017. The maximum amount for the VA's Home Loan Guaranty program for next year ranges from $424,100 for most counties to between $425,500 and $721,050 for high-cost counties from Denver to Honolulu. These limits take effect on all loans closed on Jan. 1 and thereafter. Eligible veterans can still borrow amounts higher than those listed -- but lenders may require them to make a down payment for the amount borrowed in excess of the applicable county loan limit. The VA calculates its figures using county median home values reported by the Federal Housing Administration. For next year, some limits increased, some stayed the same and a few decreased. Questions about VA loans in a particular county can be directed to the VA Regional Loan Center of jurisdiction. You can find more information here.

-- Jim Absher contributed to this report.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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