The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) agreement, reached by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers, will lower the pay raise for troops, slow the growth in housing allowances, and increase co-pays for most of their prescriptions.
Critics argue that the defense budget should not be balanced at the expense of benefits for soldiers.
The White House and the Pentagon backed the cuts in an effort to bring down personnel costs.
“Personnel costs are currently budgeted at $177 billion for 2015, or more than a third of the Pentagon’s non-war budget of $496 billion,” reports Military.com.
The 1,648-page NDAA agreement clears about $577 billion in spending for fiscal 2015, including nearly $496 billion for base Pentagon programs, about $64 billion for U.S. combat operations, including an estimated $5 billion for the anti-Islamic State mission in Iraq and Syria.
It also includes about $18 billion for national security programs in the Department of Energy.
Troops’ pay raises will be lowered to 1 percent, from the 1.8 percent set by a formula that Congress established.
The 1 percent pay raise is in line with what President Obama had proposed.
“We note that the President has exercised his authority… to implement an alternative across-the-board pay raise for members of the uniformed services for calendar year 2015 of 1 percent rather than the 1.8 percent that would otherwise be required,” states an explanatory statement of the NDAA compromise.
“For an E-3 with three years of service, the lower raise is a loss of about $195 a year. For an E-7 with 10 years, it comes out to $356. For an O-5 with 12 years of service, it’s $667 in annual salary,” reports the Military Times.
The NDAA also cuts basic allowances for housing (BAH) by 1 percent for one year. Soldiers will now have to pay out-of-pocket for some housing costs.
That means BAH rate will cover 99 percent of estimated housing costs next year.
“The agreement includes the Senate provision with an amendment that would authorize the [Defense] Secretary to reduce the monthly amount of BAH by up to 1 percent of the national average for housing for a given pay grade and dependency status,” states the explanatory statement. “Servicemembers would not see any reduction in their BAH until they undergo a permanent change of duty station.”
The modifications to prescription co-payments for service members will go into effect in January and amount to a $3 increase for all prescriptions, except for generic drugs ordered through the mail, according to Military Times.
“The bill includes hundreds of important provisions to authorize the activities of the Department of Defense and provide for the well-being of our men and women in uniform and their families,” states a joint statement from Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, (R-OK), the committee’s ranking member.
“This bill provides essential funding and authorities for our forces who are engaged with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and those who are in harm’s way in Afghanistan,” it continues, “and it enables the military services to continue paying special pays and bonuses needed for the recruitment and retention of key military personnel.”
The joint statement acknowledges the cuts to troops’ benefits and pay.
“We need to address the growing pressure that personnel costs are placing on the defense budget. But what you cannot do in a defense bill is ask our troops to take a pay cut and then add non-defense related pork,” said Dan Caldwell, the legislative director for Concerned Veterans for America. “It sends the message to our troops that their pay cuts are being used to pay for pork and pet projects.”
Breitbart News reported that congressional negotiators included unrelated land grab provisions in the NDAA compromise.