Military pay and troop numbers could get a boost next year under proposed Defense budget

Abbie Bennett
June 15, 2020 - 1:04 pm
A UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter assigned to the "Winged Warriors" of 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment (1-228 AVN) 1-228 Aviation Regiment prepares to land on the flight deck of the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Detroit (LCS 7).

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anderson W. Branch/Released

The military could see a 3-percent pay increase next year under a $740.5 billion Defense budget plan approved by a major Senate committee. 

The must-pass Defense budget policy bill also includes increasing the total number of troops, more coronavirus pandemic response funding and addresses the military's role in national unrest, among hundreds of other measures and changes in the massive legislation, which still has a long road ahead before it reaches the president's desk to become law. 

There are likely still months of negotiations ahead for the National Defense Authorization Act, which outlines the nation's 2021 defense spending. Congress is on a 59-year streak of passing the legislation and this year would mark the 60th. 

The most immediate part of the bill is a 3-percent pay increase for service members in 2021, matching the White House budget request and expected civilian raises. About 30 military bonuses or specialty pays also are re-authorized under the plan. 

The ongoing pandemic also figured into senators' defense budget plans, with $44 million in more cash for continued vaccine research, among other pandemic-related measures. 

In response to national debate on the military's role in responding to "civil unrest" such as the protests of recent weeks, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., added an amendment to the bill that would prevent the use of Defense funding or military troops "against American citizens exercising their first amendment rights." 

The defense spending bill further included an amendment added during a closed-door markup that would require the Pentagon to create a commission to study and provide recommendations to remove the names of military installations honoring Confederate leaders. President Donald Trump has signaled he would veto a Defense budget that included such a measure. 

President 'will not even consider' renaming military bases honoring Confederate leaders

The budget plan also calls for increasing the total number of troops serving by the thousands, also matching the White House 2021 request.

  • Army active-duty troops would increase by about 5,000 to a total of 485,000;
  • The Navy would increase by about 6,200 to 346,730;
  • The Air Force would increase by about 675 to 333,475;
  • The Marine Corps would be the only service branch to decrease, losing about 6,200 for a total of about 180,000. 

In order to keep those new troops, though, the bill also includes measures to build up daycare availability, consistently cited as a readiness and retention issue for service members with families. 

The defense spending bill also includes measures to reform military housing, furthering efforts from last year's budget plan. For 2021, senators included measures to require the Defense Department to hire new oversight for outside contractors and prevent leasing "substandard" housing. The Defense Department's inspector general also would be required to audit the medical conditions of service members and their families who have lived in poor-quality housing previously to determine if the housing may be linked to longterm health concerns. 

During the pandemic, thousands of healthcare appointments moved to telehealth, online or by phone. The budget plan calls for encouraging the military healthcare system to expand telehealth. 

The plan also continues "longstanding" provisions that prevent the Pentagon from a repeated effort to close military installations and from shutting down detention facilities at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

The House is expected to begin its markup of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act on July 1, though further information on the House draft are expected later this month. Senators have not yet said when their draft of the bill will head to the floor for a vote. 

-

Bill would provide new education benefits to veterans who lost their job over the pandemic

Veterans Affairs lawmakers introduce major bill to help homeless vets during pandemic

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.