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Military families and their advocates are battling an Obama administration proposal to limit troops’ pay raises to 1 percent in 2014, the lowest increase in half a century.
The raise comes at a time when forces will still be fighting in Afghanistan.
“We’re sending the wrong message to the ones who have worked the hardest in our country by the multiple deployments and family separations,” says Michael Hayden, deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, no relation to Michael Hayden, said Obama is committed to “a sacred trust” with military members, but needed to reduce the pay raise, partly to offset congressional refusal to cut spending on “outdated weapons system.”
Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, called the limit on pay increases a “tough decision.” But she said the Defense Department must pay for proper training and support, and “fair compensation that recognizes the sacrifices they (troops) make for our country ... while adhering to the budget constraints it is facing.”
Pentagon officials briefing military family representatives framed the 1 percent increase as a trade-off: “They believe servicemembers and families would be willing to give something on the size of pay raises to ensure funding for the mission,” the National Military Family Association explained to members on its website.
This triggered angry questions from spouses, who asked whether this wasn’t a false choice.
“We understand that funding training and readiness are vital to the servicemember and the Department of Defense, but why should something this important be an either/or?” says Joyce Raezer, executive director of the association.
Pentagon records show that a 1 percent increase would be the lowest since 1963, when there was no raise followed by a double-digit increase later that year. The second-lowest raise since then was in 2011 at 1.4 percent.
Military pay increases by law are now linked with private sector growth as reflected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index, an assessment that would call for a 1.8 percent increase in 2014, which advocates are seeking.
But the Pentagon is asking Congress to limit it to 1 percent and save $540 million. The Defense Department is also seeking to raise or establish certain fees in health coverage for retirees and military dependents, a savings of $1 billion.
Doubts were also raised by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., head of the Senate Armed Service Committee sub-panel that will examine the issue. “There are a lot of ways the federal government can cut costs and save money, but targeting salaries and benefits for our troops and civilian personnel should not be one of them,” she said Wednesday.
Non-military federal workers have seen their pay frozen for three years and Obama exempted troops from the impact of sequestration furloughs.