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Senate panel proposal increases chances for record military pay raise

The U.S. Capitol building. (Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)

A key Senate committee on Tuesday endorsed a growing movement to enact a 2.6 percent military pay raise, the highest in nearly a decade, as part of an overall proposal to boost troop levels, military programs and benefits.

The move by the Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel on personnel issues follows the passage earlier this month by a key House committee to authorize the new pay raises through the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which directs policy and spending plans for the Defense Department.

The Senate subcommittee also said its proposal, also known as its “mark,” would authorize troop increases, reforms to several military health programs and new efforts to combat sexual misconduct, domestic violence and child abuse within the services. The panel said it will release more specifics on the plan after the full Senate Armed Services Committee issues its NDAA proposal as early as this week.

The proposal “is a good starting point for a debate and discussion about how we best serve our men and women in uniform,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, ranking Democrat for the personnel subpanel. “In particular, I am pleased that the mark includes provisions that begin to address the issue of intimate partner violence and child abuse in the ranks.”

The comments come in the midst of a rash of legislative activity this week focused on the NDAA.

By Tuesday, the House Rules Committee was sorting through more than 500 proposed amendments to that chamber’s version of the NDAA. The committee was slated to send the bill, H.R. 5515, to the House floor as early as this week.

This, as the full Senate Armed Services Committee began debating their version of the NDAA behind closed doors Tuesday. The committee’s subpanels were also combing through their proposals behind closed doors with the exception of the personnel committee, which held its hearing in public.

So far, the Senate panel seems to take a more aggressive stance than the House NDAA proposal on issues such as reforming the “up or out” military promotion system, addressing opioid addictions among military servicemembers and veterans, and tackling the sexual misconduct, abuse and domestic violence concerns. For example, the committee’s proposal would make domestic violence a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, a complaint raised in several Senate committee hearings this past year.

The panel’s proposal also addresses complaints brought to the committee earlier this year on claims that the promotion system known as the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act is woefully outdated. In January, a panel of military experts and leaders urged lawmakers to revamp the one-size-fits-all program that standardized military promotions because it has plagued recruiting and retention efforts.

“It introduces the most comprehensive reform of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act since its inception in 1980, which includes key provisions to better align officer management with the objectives included the National Defense Strategy,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., chairman of the personnel subpanel.

Tillis said the committee’s plan would also launch several health care related reforms, such as expand authorities for the director of the Defense Health Agency to better manage medical treatment facilities. It would also establish a three-year pilot program to minimize servicemembers’ abuse of opioids and require the Tricare pharmacy program to share information with state prescription drug monitoring programs, Tillis said.

It also authorizes $40 million in additional impact aid to local educational agencies with military dependent children and $10 million in aid for schools with military dependent children with severe disabilities, Tillis said.


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