Sergeant Major of the Army Fights for Dual-Service Couples
The top enlisted members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are asking congressional negotiators to drop a Senate-passed plan that would reduce housing allowances for dual-military couples. The change, part of an overhaul of military compensation, would reduce Pentagon spending by $77 billion in 2016 and by $1.7 billion over five years, but the savings would come out of the pockets of service members married to other service members. The disputed provision would reduce basic allowance for housing (BAH) for military members married to other members by either 25 percent or the allowance rate for a single corporal, whichever is greater. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the change would reduce monthly housing allowances by an average of $1,100 a year, or $13,200 at current allowance rates. A letter signed by Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey and his fellow senior enlisted advisers says the change would penalize “the limited number of service members in dual-service families, of which 80 percent are in our enlisted force.” This would potentially take away much-needed income and have a negative impact on recruiting and retaining an all-volunteer force, the enlisted leaders said. They also say the change would disproportionately target women in the military. Approximately 20 percent of women on active duty are in dual-military marriages, compared to 3.7 percent of active-duty men. “When faced with such a significant penalty for marrying another military member, the unintended consequence would be one of those members would most likely leave the service,” the letter said. “At a time when we are working to recruit more women and open more options for women to serve, this provision unnecessarily challenges our efforts to accomplish this goal.” Patricia Barron, director of Family Readiness for the Association of the U.S. Army, agrees with the senior enlisted advisers. “The Department of Defense has made great strides in treating all service members fairly and equally in the last decade, so it doesn’t make sense we would single out a small percentage of the force to be significantly penalized simply because they married someone else in the military,” Barron said. “Dual-military couples must overcome enough other challenges during their military career. Having to face a reduction in compensation simply because your spouse also wears a uniform shouldn’t be one of them.” The letter was sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees who are overseeing negotiations to work out a compromise defense bill. Their target is to complete work by Aug. 7. The Senate version of the 2016 defense policy bill, S. 1376, contains the provision reducing housing payments for dual-service couples. The House version, HR 1735, does not. The enlisted leaders want negotiators to drop the Senate provision. The housing proposal could significantly reduce a service member’s regular, individualized military compensation, comprised of BAH, basic pay, basic allowance for subsistence and the associated federal income tax advantage, the letter said. The White House agrees with the senior enlisted advisers. In a policy statement, the Office of Management and Budget says the change would “degrade the culture and environment needed to keep our military open and welcoming to military families, and risks sacrificing the strengths they bring to our nation’s defense.” The White House statement also predicts the change would hurt recruiting and retention.