Buried in the 1,915-page defense policy bill are major changes that could affect more than 1 million members of the military and their families.
The House has passed the bill 270-156 and the Senate is scheduled to vote on the $612 billion bill this week.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation as part of a larger budget debate on Capitol Hill, but if enacted, here are highlights of the legislation affecting members of the armed forces and their families:
A 1.3 percent increase in basic pay. Lawmakers were silent on the pay increase, leaving it to set itself at 2.3 percent through an automatic calculation based on a government cost index. The president, however, has the authority to set the increase, and earlier this year, he set it at 1.3 percent. The troops got 1 percent raises in both 2014 and 2015. Service organizations aren’t happy.
While saying that some proposals in the bill were encouraging, retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America, said “a 1.3 percent pay raise is below private-sector pay growth and continues a worrying trend of capping pay for a third consecutive year.”
Guns on base
In a response to attacks on defense personnel, including those at Little Rock, Arkansas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Fort Hood, Texas, the legislation requires the defense secretary to implement a new policy by year’s end on carrying personal firearms on base. The bill makes it clear that post commanders are empowered to let members of the armed forces carry government-issued or personal firearms on military installations, reserve centers or recruiting stations if it’s determined that carrying such a firearm “is necessary as a personal or force-protection measure.”
The bill directs the Defense Department to come up with a plan to clear wait times – currently greater than three months – during the next three years. The goal is to improve access to child care on military installations to make sure it can be provided within 90 days. More than 200,000 children receive child care at Defense Department facilities. As of September 2014, the department reported that there were more than 11,000 children on waiting lists.
The bill expands the opportunity for the spouse and children of service members to fly, unaccompanied, on military aircraft if there is space available. Before, dependents were allowed to fly if the service member was deployed for more than 120 days. To ease the strain of extended deployments, the legislation allows them to fly if their service member is deployed for 30 days or more. Multiple deployments are common in today’s U.S. military. The commission said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, 66 percent of service members have deployed an average of 2.6 times, with many going more frequently.
Read more: The Blaze