New Pay and Benefits Report. DoD released its “11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation” report on Thursday. The study contains analysis and recommendations on pay comparability, incentive and combat pays, wounded warrior / caregivers / survivors compensation, and reserve pay and retirement.
Senate Hearing on Special Needs. This week the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee heard testimony on DoD programs and policies that support military families with special needs.
New Pay and Benefits Report
Every four years, the DoD is required to study whether compensation levels are sufficient to “sustain recruitment and retention of the high-caliber men and women in uniform who serve our nation.”
The 11th edition of the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC) issued its massive 900+ page report this week on military pay, benefits and retirement.
The QRMC asserted its preference for “Regular Military Compensation” (RMC) as the standard to construct a civilian-equivalent “salary” for the military. It includes basic pay, the national average housing and subsistence allowances for the applicable grade, and also includes the “tax advantage” realized because housing and subsistence allowances aren’t subject to federal income taxes.
The Report notes that other compensation models have been adopted by earlier QRMC panels making consistent comparisons to civilian pay difficult. The QRMC recommends future reports to adopt the RMC standard for ease of comparison.
The 11th QRMC concluded that in 2009, RMC for the enlisted force corresponded to the 90th percentile of wages for civilians in comparable pay cohorts and for officers, RMC exceeded wages for civilians with a bachelor’s or graduate-level degree.
The Report focuses on major components of military compensation.
- 1. Special and incentive pays. Establish career incentive pays, similar to career pays for aviators and health professionals, for critical shortage specialties including special operators, mental health professionals, linguists, and remotely piloted vehicles operators.
- 2. Combat compensation. Tier combat zone pay to the expected degree of danger by setting Hostile Fire Pay (HFP) higher than Imminent Danger Pay (IDP) and creating more than one level of IDP. Revise tax credits for combat theatre duty contingent on receipt of either HFP or IDP.
- 3. Wounded warriors and caregivers. The QRMC made no specific recommendations on wounded warrior compensation other than to monitor their long term financial condition. The Report calls for a closer alignment of DoD and VA caregiver programs by making eligibility criteria, disbursement rules, and tax treatment consistent between the programs.
- 4. Survivor Benefits. Modify the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation and the Survivor Benefit Plan offset to allow the surviving spouse to receive that portion of the Survivor Benefit Plan annuity funded by retiree premiums (approximately 50 percent). Calculate Survivor Benefit Plan benefits for a reservist who dies while performing inactive duty training using the same criteria as for a member who dies while on active duty.
- 5. Reserve pay and retirement. Convert the current drill pay system to active duty compensation, so that each reserve duty day would equate to one day of active duty pay and proportional tax-advantaged allowances. Reduce the annual qualification for retirement from 50 to 35 points. Authorize receipt of retired pay on the 30th anniversary of military service after a Guard or Reserve member completes 20 qualifying years. A reservist who entered at age 20 and completed 20 years qualifying service at age 40 would draw reserve retired pay and benefits at age 50. The QRMC also called for consolidating 30 reserve duty statuses to no more than 6.
The QRMC report offers some serious food for thought on these topics. MOAA agrees with some of the findings and recommendations but disagrees with others; we’ll take a closer look at the report in the coming weeks.
Senate Hearing on Special Needs
On Thursday, The Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee heard testimony on DoD programs and policies that support military families with special needs. The hearing was part of a review of the FY2013 defense bill, but committee members focused primarily on the issue of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for military children with autism.
DoD classifies ABA therapy as an “educational intervention” rather than medical therapy, thereby excluding it from coverage under the basic TRICARE Program.
Military special needs families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may be eligible to receive ABA services under TRICARE Extend Health Care Option (ECHO). The ECHO Program provides additional benefits not otherwise available under TRICARE to eligible active duty families (including activated National Guard and Reserve) with special needs to covers costs of supplies and services necessary for qualifying medical and physical conditions.
Recently the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) determined that ABA for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is considered “medical therapy for the purposes of offering it to beneficiaries in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program.” This decision allows, but does not require, companies that provide health care coverage to civilian federal workers to offer ABA treatment.
Jeremy Hilton, a 2011-2012 MOAA Spouse council member, veteran and father of a special needs daughter, was among the six expert witnesses at the hearing. Hilton strongly believes if OPM now allows coverage of ABA therapy for children of federal employees, military children with autism deserve no less.
He testified on behalf of all military families with special needs and entered into the record more than 75 personal statements from military families with a special needs family member.
These statements highlighted issues such as:
- Lengthy state Medicaid waiver lists
- Losing ECHO coverage upon retirement (including servicemembers that are medically retired)
- TRICARE’s classification of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as an educational intervention rather than medical therapy.
DoD has requested the OPM study that resulted in the decision to classify ABA as a medical therapy. Dr. Karen Guice, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, acknowledged, however, that it could take a “long time, up to six months” to review it.
Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) concluded the hearing saying, “Our question, our burden is evaluating the methodology in order to determine whether this therapy is medically effective and, if it is, in these cases where it should be applied, there shouldn’t be any question about what we do.”