Every year lawmakers roll out a new National Defense Authorization Act packed with new rules for military members and their families. From commissary changes, to Tricare, to paternity leave, this bill has the potential to make life easier and sometimes harder for everyone who calls the military life their own.
One quick caveat: all of the below assumes that the Senate passes this legislation (which they are expected to) and the President signs it (which is sort of up in the air as of this writing).
So what's in it for you? I've spent hours scouring this document to figure that out and find what you need to know.
8 Military Family Changes for 2017 That Impact You1. Pay raise. Your service member is scoring a 2.1 percent pay raise for 2017 as a result of this law. That's the biggest pay raise troops have received in five years. Figure out what that means for your family through the Military.com Pay App.
2. Tricare program change. We talked a lot about the proposed Tricare changes early this year. What actually ended up passing has very little impact on currently serving troops and retirees, but big impact on those who join the military in 2018 or thereafter. The biggest change you'll see is that what you currently know as "Tricare Standard" and "Tricare Extra" will be called "Tricare Select" instead. For those who join after 2018 that name change comes with a program restructuring, but that doesn't impact you.
3. Even more urgent care access. Lawmakers included a change that removes the requirement for Tricare Prime users to receive referrals for urgent care. Right now all Tricare Prime users can get two free urgent care visits a year without a referral. The new takes away that referral requirement entirely, giving unlimited urgent care visits. We'll let you know when this goes into effect.
4. Basic Allowance for Housing. Guess what? No changes! A proposal had, once again, threatened to eliminate the allowance for some troops who are married to or live with other service members. But it was not included in the final legislation. Fun side fact: the new rates for 2017 should be released soon. Stay tuned!
5. Commissary price changes and increases. Yes, more of them. Rather than run a pilot program testing price changes, lawmakers want the commissary to just go for it system-wide, assuming they first come up with some sort of standard that sets how far below off-base grocery prices they should be to show us a savings. For example, if they decide that we should all save a guaranteed 20 percent by shopping at the commissary, a box of cereal that costs $3.50 at most off-base stores will cost $2.70 at the commissary.
6. Child abuse protection. The legislation wants everyone -- on base and off -- to get better about sharing information regarding child abuse cases in an effort to better protect kids. The military child abuse rate has been the subject of much discussion over the past year, and this law aims to make it easier to protect kids in potentially-abusive homes.
7. Paternity leave and adoption leave. Military fathers and secondary caregivers will have access to more leave thanks to a measure included in the bill. Fathers and secondary caregivers will get up to 21 days of leave after the birth of a baby or an adoption. The bill also puts into law a DoD policy that gives birth moms 12 weeks of paid leave, six of which are considered "convalescent." After an adoption the "primary caregiver" will get six weeks of leave.
But there is a catch here. First, the law gives the Defense Department the ability to require a one-for-one additional service obligation, or "ADSO," for each week of non-convalescent leave. Another option is for for the leave to be considered "chargeable" and docked from your annual leave amount. That means at some point the DoD could hold back the entirety of the paternity/secondary caregiver or primary caregiver leave, and half of the maternity leave unless the person taking it wants to serve longer or have it docked from his or her leave bank. If any of the services decide to go that route, we'll let you know.
8. Survivor Payouts for Guard and Reserve families. In the past the payout, or Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), for the families of Guard and Reserve members who were killed during training was lower than that for families of troops who died on active duty. In some instances where Reservists and Active Duty members were killed side-by-side during training exercises, that meant one family received a higher payout than the other, even though they were killed at the same time. This change fixes that problem, giving Guard and Reserve families the same payout as active duty families after the death of a service member, regardless of duty status.