August 19, 2013
When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently floated the broad outlines of his Strategic Choices Management Review, the section on military pay and benefits included now-familiar proposals to shrink future annual military pay raises and make changes in the Tricare health program.
But there also was a new bombshell: Defense officials will explore options for making the 1 million active-duty troops living off base pay out of pocket for part of their housing costs.
At a time when all of the news about military pay and benefits seems bad, this proposal is on a whole new level.
Even under a policy of capped pay raises, troops would still see annual increases. With inflation still low, the effect on purchasing power would likely be negligible.
In contrast, reducing the Basic Allowance for Housing so that it no longer fully covers average rental costs would be nothing less than a backdoor pay cut.
That’s particularly egregious in light of recent BAH history. Before 2001, active-duty troops shelled out for about 20 percent of their off-base housing costs. Then the Pentagon launched, with great fanfare, a five-year effort to close the “BAH gap” and boost allowance rates to cover 100 percent of average rental costs.
Abandoning that policy now would be a serious retreat on a vital benefit — and a gut-punch to morale.
If this was meant to underscore the many bad choices facing defense officials under the mindless congressional budget policy of sequestration, it worked.
It’s a sharp reminder to lawmakers that they must do their duty to cut defense spending in more thoughtful and responsible fashion — before causing such pain to troops and their families.