New Suit Comes With Limited BenefitsBy Katherine McIntire Peters
ou could say Don Collins wears two hats. The program analyst at the Defense Logistics Agency is also an Air Force master sergeant. When he deployed to Haiti in December, he went as a uniformed airman. He returned home in April as a civilian.
When his military deployment expired in March, his bosses at DLA asked him to stay on as a civilian. While few people noticed the transition, Collins felt it. He had to remove from his uniform the insignia that automatically gives him respect as a senior noncommissioned officer. He also had to turn in the sidearm he had been carrying for protection. The size of his paycheck changed and his family lost some military benefits they merited when he was on active duty.
Collins' experience was unique, but as the Defense Department becomes increasingly dependent on civilians to conduct military operations, Pentagon officials find themselves working to clarify regulations and improve the lot of civilians on deployments.
The defense authorization bill submitted to Congress for 1997 would ensure civilians receive danger pay when on deployments where military personnel receive imminent danger pay. Now the State Department must authorize such pay for Defense civilians. While State has done so for civilians on recent deployments, during the war in the Persian Gulf civilians received danger pay only during the actual fighting, while uniformed personnel received imminent danger pay during the buildup, actual fighting and drawdown from the conflict.
The legislation also would give civilians the same tax breaks military personnel of equivalent rank receive; allow them to carry over annual leave benefits during deployments; and guarantee life insurance payments up to $200,000 for civilians whose commercial life insurance policies contain a war clause.
"We're really concerned that civilians get the same treatment as the military who are deployed," says Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for civilian personnel policy.
In addition, Army officials have recently published a deployment guide for civilians. The guide explains everything from personnel policy during deployments to legal and medical benefits available to civilian employees and their families. Civilians may want to keep the following in mind:
- While the Army tries to deploy volunteers on overseas missions, employees may be tapped to deploy involuntarily if their skills are deemed necessary, whether or not they are previously identified as "emergency essential" employees. Refusing a deployment could land a civilian on the unemployment line.
- Civilians tapped for deployment are entitled to basic income tax assistance and legal assistance in preparing documents such as wills and powers of attorney.
- Family members are entitled to participate in family support groups and the Army Family Team Building program.
- Civilians will be required to undergo a physical examination before deployment and may be required to take immunizations or other medications required for deployment to the theater of operations.
- All training, weapons, equipment and clothing issued to civilians will be determined by the theater commander.
- If civilians are deployed during a declared war, they may be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Civilians may be declared "combatants" in the theater of operations.