We've been telling you since early this year about proposed changes to the Defense Department. For all those months the changes have been making their way through Congress where lawmakers squabbled over them, voted in some and rejected others. And we've been waiting for final word on what would and would not be included.
Now, finally, lawmakers passed their plans for the DoD for 2016. This is the stuff that impacts everything from your paycheck to weapons systems. And while you're going to have to go somewhere else for news on aircraft carriers, we've got all the information on what in this bill impacts spouses and family members like you.
Military Pay and retirement.You're only going to get a 1.3 percent pay raise in 2016 (that's one percent lower than what we should be getting). But the big news here is that lawmakers have passed a military retirement overhaul plan that grandfathers in those working under current pension system but allows some troops to opt into the new plan.
So what's the new plan? Go over here to read the details on that.
Basic allowance for housing.Lawmakers approved a plan that we've already seen the beginning stages of -- by 2019 BAH will be designed to cover only cover 95 percent of your housing costs. *Cue sad music*. Right now it is supposed to cover 99 percent. In 2016 it will be calculated to only cover 98 percent ... and so on. That means if you move to a new area or graduate to a new pay grade your BAH rate will reflect the new calculation. As always, those currently receiving a higher rate are grandfathered in and not impacted.
Dual-military families also dodged a major BAH cut bullet ... for now. Lawmakers did not pass a plan to only give one member of a dual-military household BAH. But they warned that they are going to look at doing that in 2017, and that the housing allowance is only meant to cover your housing -- not to be a part of your paycheck. Military families, of course, don't really view it that way.
Commissaries.Yet again, lawmakers played kick the can with commissary changes and, yet again, instead requested the DoD drum up a report on a plan.
You'll recall that there were what seemed like 100 different commissary cut proposals. None of those made it into the final bill. Instead, DoD is supposed to produce by next spring a plan for making the commissary self-funded by 2017 with options for doing so including privatizing the system, closing stores, asking civilian grocers for military discounts and combining the commissary and Exchange systems.
But producing a plan doesn't mean one will be implemented. We've got elections between now and then, and there's no doubt that this will continue to be a hot button issue. Will we ever be done talking about changing the commissary system? My best guess is no.
Lawmakers decided to not include language that would block the commissary from changing the way produce is shipped to Asia. That means when a new contract goes into effect produce prices in commissaries in Asia could go up. We're on top of that change, too.
Tricare.Tricare pharmacy fees are going to go up under the new plan -- but we all suspected that was going to happen. The law puts in place a $2 increase for 30-day supply generics filled at an in-network retail pharmacy and a $4 increase to brand name drugs bringing them to $10 and $24 respectively. For those filled through mail-order, generics will continue to be free while a 90-day supply of brand-name drugs will increase from $16 to $20. Non-formulary drugs will increase from $49 to $49 for a 90-day supply by mail-order.
The rest of the Tricare proposals? Rejected. That includes a plan to examine what Tricare can do to specifically serve children, known as "Tricare for Kids."
But Urgent Care could get easier for some families. A pilot program was approved that will allow some to use Urgent Care without prior authorization. We don't know yet what regions or areas will be a part of the pilot, so we can't give you anymore details now. When we know, we'll tell you about it.
Help for spouses of convicted troops.A proposal looked to give help to spouses and families of troops convicted of crimes. It would've given a temporary, transitional payout of a base rate of about $1,200 plus a variety of additional allowances for up to three years to the spouses of service members whose crimes result in loosing their pension.
Lawmakers ultimately rejected that measure and it's not in the final version of the bill.
Keeping track of military kids.A commission tasked by Congress with examining military pay and benefits had proposed instituting a tracking system so the DoD could have a better handle on how military kids are doing in school. Lawmakers proposed using the DoD personnel system, DEERS, to make that happen.
That plan, however, wasn't included in the final version either. So no tracker for us.
Financial literacy training.That same commission had suggested that if the DoD was going to get a new retirement system, officials needed to do a better job of helping service members understand their finances. I won't lie, I'm pretty cash savvy, yet the word "retirement savings" send me into a cold sweat. So I get why this is needed.
The final version includes an order that officials provide that training at pretty much every single service member life event. But there's no word on whether or not that will be individual counseling or group training, and you already know what we think about that. (Hint: we think group training is mostly a waste of time.)