Military Connection: Military Compensation in Peril: By Debbie Gregory

pentagon2015

By Debbie Gregory

The Pentagon is currently strategizing for it’s next imminent conflict. But this will not be a war fought in a foreign land; it will be a political skirmish on Capitol Hill, as a congressionally appointed commission is poised to deliver the results of its two-year study on military compensation and retirement.

The 2013 National Defense Act mandated the formation of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission in an attempt to reign-in the steadily rising costs of military pay and benefits, which make up approximately 30% of the DOD budget.

In this new era of reduced defense spending, Washington is looking to cut expenses in the defense budget wherever it can. Information provided by the commission’s report will likely be used by Congress and the White House to generate proposals for changes to military pay and benefits.

The findings of the commission’s report are likely to set off an intense debate about the future of the military compensation system. The commission’s recommendations are expected to include controversial proposals which could include changing or eliminating incentive pays, trimming on-base benefits, and even altering the military’s retirement model.

Some officials at the Pentagon are trying to keep an open mind. Some support cutting personnel costs in favor of investing in research and new weapons. But there are many military leaders who fear that reductions to military compensation could seriously harm the DOD’s ability to recruit and retain service members.

As the Pentagon and the White House begin facing pointed questions about how the proposals might impact readiness, defense officials will launch an intensive internal review that ultimately will inform President Obama’s official position.

Leaders at the Pentagon aren’t sure what the commission will recommend to Congress. The DOD has selected a team of officials who will review, analyze and prepare a formal response to influence this spring’s  historic vote.

After the report is delivered on February 1st , the Pentagon is expected to have personnel ready to study the proposals. By February 26th, senior Pentagon leaders are expected to receive a draft of the formal response. By March 6th, the Joint Chiefs will examine the DOD’s official position on the commission’s recommendations. The defense secretary is expected to approve or reject a final version of the Pentagon’s response by March 13th.  At that time, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may have already been replaced by his successor,  Ash Carter, who is likely to be confirmed by the Senate by then.

From the defense secretary, the official response will then go to the White House, where it will undergo further review. It is likely that President Obama will provide formal recommendations to Congress by April 1st .

For the time being, many Americans, especially those in uniform, will be watching the results of this conflict unfold, hopeful about the outcome.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Military Compensation in Peril: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: US, Japan, South Korea Sign Pact: By Debbie Gregory

Trilateral Info sharing

By Debbie Gregory.

On December 28, 2014, a trilateral information sharing arrangement was signed between the U.S., the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Japan. The agreement pools information regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (North Korea) nuclear and missile threats.

The U.S. has already separately maintained agreements with South Korea and Japan. In 2012, South Korea and Japan attempted to form a pact to share intelligence. But the attempt failed due to public disapproval among the people of South Korea. South Koreans harbored ill-feelings towards Japan and its people because of  atrocities committed by the Japanese Empire before and during and before WWII, when Korea was a Japanese colony– and whose people were mistreated.

The U.S. brokered the deal so that all three countries can share intel directly with each other, thus alleviating the mistrust among its two biggest Asian allies.

The Trilateral Information Sharing Agreement provides that the three nations will do the following:

  • Establish a mechanism to enable the sharing of classified information concerning threats posted by North Korea.
  • Classified materials can be exchanged through any form, including written, oral, digital, electronic, magnetic, visual, and documentary forms.
  • Each participant will protect the security of any classified materials shared under the agreement.
  • South Korea and Japan may opt to share intelligence using the United States as a go-between.
  • Any information shared with the U.S. DOD will be designated with an equivalent U.S. security classification, and safeguarded accordingly. The DOD will then share the materials with the other participant.
  • Each participant will make the full text of this arrangement public.
  • The arrangement is not intended to have any legal binding effects under international law or domestic laws of any participant. Each participant is intended to implement the arrangement in accordance with their domestic laws and restrictions.
  • Each participant is expected to give the others written notice of their intention to discontinue participation.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: US, Japan, S. Korea Sign Pact: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: DOD Pay Changes 2015: By Debbie Gregory

Military pay 2015

By Debbie Gregory.

As of January 1, 2015, the new rates for Department of Defense (DOD) basic pay, basic allowance for housing, basic allowance for subsistence, and cost of living allowance for the contiguous United States have taken effect.

Service members will see an increase of 1% to their basic pay in 2015. For enlisted service members, this means a monthly increase of $14.80 for E-1 personnel, up to a monthly increase of $519.10 for those in the E-9 paygrade with over 18 years of service.

The basic allowance for housing (BAH) rates for service members will increase by 0.5% in 2015, which equates to an average of approximately $17 per month. BAH rates are calculated using median current market rent and average utilities (including electricity, heat, and water/sewer) for each pay grade. BAH is factored separately in each pay grade, for personnel both with and without dependents.

The DOD implemented two changes to BAH rate computations for 2015. The Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act reduced housing rates, on average, 1% for service members. Renter’s Insurance, which made up approximately 1% of the allowance, was eliminated from the factor. Service members can calculate their 2015 BAH payment by using the basic allowance for housing calculator offered by MilitaryConnection.com.

The DOD’s basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) rates for military members will increase by 2.9% in 2015. The military’s basic allowance for subsistence is a nontaxable monthly payment intended to purchase food.  The annual adjustments for this allowance are linked to changes in food prices, as measured by the annual change in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cost of Food. From October, 2013, through September, 2014, the index of food prices rose by 2.9%, generating the basis for the increased BAS rates. The new BAS rates are as follows:

$367.92 per month for enlisted members

$253.38 per month for officers

The DOD also released its 2015 contiguous United States (CONUS) cost of living allowance (COLA) rates. CONUS COLA is a taxable supplemental allowance designed to help offset higher prices in high-cost locations. COLA rates vary, based on location, pay grade, years of service and dependent status. Rates can increase or decrease, depending on the prices in a specific duty location compared to prices in an average CONUS location. Service members can calculate their CONUS COLA on the COLA calculator offered by MilitaryConnection.com.

For 2015, approximately 7,000 service members will see either an increase or no change to their COLA rate. Around 12,000 personnel will see a decrease in their CONUS COLA payments, while some 4,000 members will no longer receive a CONUS COLA payment.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir Force,MarinesCoast GuardGuard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board,information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Navy’s Sabbatical Program: By Debbie Gregory

Navy Sabbatical

By Debbie Gregory.

Every year, thousands of service members separate from their military branch, for a multitude of reasons. Some of these men and women want to enroll in school, start a family, or reconnect with their families after multiple deployments and years spent away from home. Whatever the reason for leaving, military officials believe that they may be letting too many quality service members go, and are devising ways to retain some of the “keepers.”

Currently, the Navy offers a program called the Career Intermission Program (CIP) that annually allows twenty officers and twenty enlisted personnel  to transfer out of the active duty component and into the Individual Ready Reserve, for up to three years, all the while retaining their active duty healthcare coverage.

But CIP is a complicated and limited program, with numerous restrictions that may disqualify many of the same personnel that the Navy is trying to retain.

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral Bill Moran is pressing for an improved program that will do more than CIP does. Vice Admiral Moran is looking for ways to keep more quality sailors and naval officers in uniform, even if it means letting them take the uniform off for a few years.

“We need to offer meaningful incentives to keep the best talent we can, both men and women,” Moran said.

Vice Admiral Moran has proposed allowing service members to take a sabbatical from service. He believes that quality officers and sailors should be allowed to leave the Navy for a few years in order to accomplish their own personal, academic and familial goals, and then be allowed to return at the same rank and on the same career path.

By giving these service members this opportunity, it is more likely that quality personnel, who might otherwise leave the service, will stay for the long-term and become the senior leaders the Navy needs.

Vice Admiral Moran intends to ask Congress for the authority to expand the CIP program by opening it up to more personnel and altering some of the restrictions, including years of service and job description requirements.

The Air Force, Army and Marine Corps are each in the process of implementing their own pilot sabbatical programs.

While the Navy’s CIP program hasn’t been widely used in its five year history, Navy leaders, including Moran, believe that service members who want to pursue and complete their own personal, academic and familial goals are exactly the type of quality people needed to run the U.S. military in the decades to come.

Military Connection: VA Eyes End of Backlog in 2015: By Debbie Gregory

backlog 2015

By Debbie Gregory.

Over the last few years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has implemented several measures in an effort to end the backlog of benefit claims by the end of 2015. In 2014, the VA made up a lot of ground, but can they really eliminate the backlog by the end of this year?

The backlog refers to the number of initial benefits claims that have remained unresolved for more than 120 days. According to the VA, at the start of 2015, the backlog stood at approximately 245,000 cases,.

The VA was only able to reduce the backlog by 90,000 in 2013 and by 160,000 in 2014. By doing the math, it seems unlikely that the VA will be able to as much to eliminate the backlog in one year as they did in the last two years combined.

Looking at new and backlogged claims, the VA completed over 1.3 million compensation and pension benefits claims in fiscal 2014. Since 2013, the VA has utilized a combination of an upgraded, paperless system and worker overtime to aggressively combat the backlog.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald has stated that he is committed to honor the VA’s promise to zero out the backlog and improve the process, moving forward, to prevent delays in processing claims in the future.

As part of the national budget agreement, Congress allotted an extra $40 million to the VA for new backlog-related initiatives, including hiring additional claims processors, and upgrading technology and communication at the VA. Lawmakers also added close to $11 million to the VA budget request for the Board of Veterans Appeals, to address the next disability claims issue–the appeals backlog.

Since the VA has been effectively reducing the claims backlog, the number of appeals has risen significantly, from approximately 245,000 cases in March, 2013, to more than 287,000 cases at the start of 2015. The VA contends that the increase is due to the larger number of cases coming in, and is not a reflection of backlogged claims merely being moved to appeals. Despite the VA’s assurances, several Veterans groups are still concerned about the increasing number of appeals, and how long it will take the VA to complete those claims for Veterans.

For now, the first-time claims backlog has remained stalled since early November, which coincides with similar holiday slowdowns that the VA has seen over the years. The VA will need to start 2015 with zeal if they are going to reach their goal of eliminating the backlog by the end of this year.

For Veterans, the best thing that you can do to help yourself and help other Veterans is to keep the system flowing. Make sure that your claims are complete, with all necessary items attached. Missing information causes claims to be sent back and stalled, log-jamming the system. Using online applications will prevent this, as the programs will tell you when information is missing. Veterans should also utilize their Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) to help them file their claims. Assistance can also be obtained through the American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and more. You do not have to be a member to receive assistance from these organizations.

Military Connection: Army To See More Cuts in 2015: By Debbie Gregory

Army soldiers

Last Sunday’s ceremony in Kabul marked the end of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, and subsequently, the war itself for the U.S. military. But there are no parades to celebrate the end of the war or the American service members who fought in it. Instead, military personnel are facing more draw downs and force reductions, starting with the Army.

Every military branch bulked up their numbers during the height of the War on Terror. After the war in Iraq ended in 2011, the Pentagon began devising strategies for each branch to individually reduce its force size. Initially, the Army was slated to complete its reductions in order to end up with a force of 490,000 by 2018.

Army leadership began a pro-active approach, beginning three years ago, by offering incentives for early retirement to senior enlisted and officers with over 16 years of active duty. The Army also began to involuntarily separate those individuals who would have difficulty being promoted again before their separation time. The bulk of the cuts effect the upper-middle ranks of the officer and non-commissioned officers.

For 2014, the Army offered a one-time screening for involuntary separation and early retirement, which included majors in year groups 1999 through 2003, and captains in year groups 2006 through 2008. The results of those boards determined that 550 majors and 1,144 captains would be separated from active duty. A similar screening is tentatively scheduled for Army captains in fall of 2015.

Using their proactive approach, the Army has been able to cut 62,000 personnel since the draw down began three years ago. The Army finished Fiscal year 2014 with 508,000 active duty personnel, just 18,000 members over their 2018 target force size.

But sequestration and financial pressures on the DOD have pushed up that target to the end of fiscal 2015, while also calling for an additional cut of 40,000 in both 2016 and 2017. There is also the possibility of further cuts of 10,000 to 20,000 by the end of the decade.

Another round of Selective Early Retirement Boards met in November, 2014, to consider separating colonels with dates of rank of August 2, 2008, through November 12, 2010, and lieutenant colonels who have been passed over for promotion to colonel two or more times. The results of the screening are pending approval by the secretary of the Army.

A similar force reduction method, called the Qualitative Service Program (QSP), was also used last year to identify approximately 1,000 enlisted soldiers for separation and early retirement. QSP boards will be used again in 2015 to trim the ranks of military occupational specialties that are over-strength, or that have limited promotion opportunity.

The first of the 2015 QSP boards will occur February 10th through March 6th, in conjunction with annual Regular Army and Active Guard and Reserve (Army Reserve) master sergeant board.

Other QSP boards in 2015:

  • The nominative command sergeant major and key billet sergeant major board that meets June 15-19 will screen command sergeants major and sergeants major for retention.
  • The sergeant first class promotion board that meets June 2ndthrough July 2ndwill screen staff sergeants for retention.
  • The sergeant major training and selection board that meets September 9-25 will screen master sergeants and first sergeants for retention.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Army To See More Cuts in 2015: By Debbie Gregory