Deployed Troops Could Get More Pay for Family Separation. But the Pentagon Is Dragging Its Feet.

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Navy sailor embraces his family following USS Normandy's return
Gas Turbine System Technician (Electrical) 2nd Class Garrett Malone embraces his family following the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy's return to Naval Station Norfolk after an eight-month deployment, Jan. 20, 2024. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anderson W. Branch)

Last year, inside the massive, annual defense policy bill was a measure aimed at making long exercises and deployments easier on families -- a hike in the "Family Separation Allowance" -- but, for reasons that remain unclear, the Pentagon has yet to implement the bump in pay.

The allowance, also known as FSA, is typically an extra monthly $250 that a service member is paid "to defray a reasonable amount of extra expenses" that come with a separation from their dependents that lasts more than 30 days.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, signed into law in December, the Pentagon is now allowed to increase the allowance to as much as $400. Specifically, the bill says the payment must be "not less than $250, and not more than $400."

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According to an internal Army newsletter that was sent out to soldiers Friday and reviewed by Military.com, the service described the change in the NDAA as "discretionary" and cited unnamed Defense Department guidance that meant "no increase is being implemented."

Military.com reached out to the Pentagon, and a defense official said in an emailed statement Tuesday that they have "not made any decision to change the monthly amount of Family Separation Allowance at this time."

The official's statement also noted that Congress gave the Pentagon "flexibility over time to adjust payment levels based upon the department's needs and other conditions" but did not offer any details as to what needs are holding back the hike in payments.

The official was unable to offer a timeline on when the increase would be enacted but pointed to an ongoing military compensation review that is expected to issue a final report at the end of 2024.

"The department looks forward to reviewing its recommendations at that time," the statement said, without offering any assurances that an increase in the FSA would happen at that point.

Military Times was the first outlet to report the story.

The NDAA also required that the review, formally known as the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, include an examination of the FSA.

Amid lawmakers' desire to boost service members' pay, defense officials have repeatedly deferred to the ongoing review. For example, the Biden administration opposed a push to overhaul the pay chart so junior enlisted service members would make the equivalent of at least $15 per hour by arguing that such a change would be premature during the review.

The version of the NDAA that was signed into law was watered down from the original House-passed proposal. The NDAA that the House passed in July required the FSA to be increased to $400 without any wiggle room. A report accompanying the compromise version of the bill did not offer an explanation for changing the provision to a range.

Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, the original sponsor of the NDAA provision, vowed to continue pushing the Pentagon to increase the stipend.

"Our military families make great sacrifices every day -- it's only fair that we do everything we can to improve their quality of life," Gonzales said in a written statement this week. "That is why I pushed hard to increase the Family Separation Allowance in this year's NDAA for the first time in two decades. I will continue to work with the Department of Defense to ensure this boost is made a reality for military parents across the country."

The confusion and delay from defense officials on a seemingly minor point of service member compensation comes at a critical time for the Defense Department. Most of the services have struggled to meet recruiting goals -- despite huge bonuses and novel ideas -- in the past year and there are few indications that the situation will improve soon. In response, branches like the Navy have been heaving huge sums of cash at well-qualified recruits.

Citing tight competition with the private sector for job benefits and perks, Navy officials offered recruits up to $115,000 in 2022 to sign up for the sea service.

"We are offering record-high enlistment bonuses to be competitive with the strong civilian labor market, recognizing that we are in competition for the best and the brightest young Americans from all walks of life," the Navy's Recruiting Command spokesman told Military.com at the time.

Now, that maximum Navy bonus total has grown to $140,000.

Related: The Navy's Personnel Boss Is Confident Data Can Fix the Service's Recruiting Woes

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