Military pay raise, childcare help and expanded recall to duty in House defense spending plan

Abbie Bennett
June 22, 2020 - 1:40 pm
A group of children proudly display their artwork created during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event held in Atlanta, Georgia July 29-31, 2016.

Official U.S. Army Reserve photo by Sgt. 1st Class

Service members could see a 3-percent pay increase next year, more childcare and military family support under a House draft of the annual defense spending bill. 

The measure also provides more authority to recall retired troops to duty during a war or national emergency. 

Those proposals are all included the personnel section of the House Armed Services Committee's draft of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021. Lawmakers are expected to vote on those measures on June 23. 

The 3-percent pay bump, which would go into effect next January, matches the White House's suggested increase and the Senate Armed Services Committee's recommendation. The raise aligns with expected civilian pay increases and federal statute. 

It's likely that at least the pay increase will pass into law since all proposals and requests match on that measure so far. It would be the first time in about 10 years service members had pay increases of at least 3 percent during consecutive years. 

The draft legislation further extends certain bonuses and special pay used as retention incentives that were set to expire, a measure also included in the Senate's draft. 

Help for military families

House lawmakers also are proposing an increase to the basic needs allowance, raising take-home pay for thousands of lower-paid troops. Military families whose income is less than 130 percent of federal poverty levels -- about $26,000 for a family of four, for example -- would get extra allowances that could amount to several hundred dollars each month.

That proposal has faced opposition in the past, including from the White House, citing possible costs, and may not be as likely to pass as the 3-percent overall pay increase.

Lawmakers also proposed new measures to expand childcare options for military families, including providing the care to any service members or Pentagon employees "working on a rotating shift at a military installation." Military spouses who provide childcare services for other families could receive preferential on-post housing under the draft bill. 

Recall to duty

The draft defense spending bill also includes an amendment to current U.S. code that would allow "the Secretary of a military department to recall more than 1,000 retirees to active duty during a war or national emergency." 

There are several ways a veteran can be recalled to service, and one involves retirees. 

Those who spend at least 20 years in the military and draw retired pay can be recalled to active-duty service for life, though it is less likely for those retired more than five years or older than 60. Retirees ordered to return to duty receive full pay and allowances and, in general, return to the rank they retired with.

During national emergencies, retirees can be recalled for an indefinite time period. The likelihood of recall to active duty also depends on the demand for a retiree’s skills during a national emergency. 

The attempt to expand recall to duty is due, at least in part, to the coronavirus pandemic, which led to calls for qualified health professionals in retirement -- civilian and military alike -- to return to work to help fight the virus.  

In 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order amending President George W. Bush’s executive order issued on Sept. 14, 2001. The amendment expands federal authority to recall retired service members to active duty. This newly proposed measure would expand that authority further.

The 2021 draft defense spending bill from House lawmakers also includes:

  • Establishing a task force on military domestic violence;
  • Surveying troops on whether they've seen evidence of "extremist, racist, anti-Semitic or supremacist" beliefs among fellow service members;
  • Funding for COVID-19 pandemic response, such as "diagnostic equipment, testing capabilities and personal protective equipment" and plans to research and develop infectious disease vaccines; 
  • A partnership between the Pentagon and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to study cancers among military pilots after data showed those troops could be more susceptible to health concerns because of their exposures;
  • New measures aimed at preventing sexual harassment and assault, including preventing survivors from being punished for minor offenses that could be uncovered when they report their assaults. 
  • Requiring a demographic report for officers of certain grades, including gender and race of all officers grades 0-4 and above.

The House draft of the defense spending bill still faces a long road ahead, including a vote from the full House Armed Services Committee expected this month and reconciling the House and Senate versions of the annual must-pass bill before it heads to the president for final approval. 

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

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