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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Defensive Positions

Defense Department

The federal civilian workforce has labored under a two-year pay freeze and countless efforts to further reduce their wages and benefits during the past year. It appears that military families are not immune to fears over pay and benefits either.

Changes to pensions, pay and other benefits rank at the top of issues military families are most concerned about, according to a new survey from Blue Star Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Thirty-one percent of respondents, which included military spouses, children, vets and service members, listed retirement benefit changes as their No. 1 concern while 20 percent ranked pay and benefits issues in general as their biggest worry.

Of the 4,234 respondents to the survey, 2,891 completed the questionnaire, which also evaluated their views on the effects of deployments on children, length of deployments, military spouse employment and combat stress.

The survey cited media coverage related to the Defense Business Board’s recommendations, as well as the uncertain economic climate and high levels of military spouse and veteran unemployment, as factors contributing to military families’ concerns.

They have reason to be worried, as Congress, the Obama administration and observers debate proposals ranging from restructuring the military’s retirement system to increasing health care premiums and other fees for retirees. Changes to the pay and benefits of service members and retirees has long been a politically sensitive subject, with lawmakers and military advocates wary of appearing ungrateful for the sacrifices of service members. But like most federal agencies, Defense is under pressure to significantly cut costs and streamline its operations.

In addition to fears over bread-and-butter issues, respondents overwhelmingly reported feeling unappreciated by the civilian population. “Unfortunately, the gap between our military and civilian communities continues to persist, with 95 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement, ‘The general public does not truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families,’ ” the survey stated.

Defense Pay and Benefits

Pay and benefits for service members and their families are very much a part of the House 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which the chamber expects to vote on Friday. Last week, the House Armed Services Committee advanced its version of the bill, approving a 1.7 percent pay raise for military service members in 2013, as well as limiting increases to pharmacy co-pays under the TRICARE program. The panel, led by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., rejected the administration’s proposals to increase the amount military retirees pay for their health care insurance, including one that would raise premiums for military retirees based on their retirement pay. The TRICARE co-pay increases in the House bill are smaller than those the president proposed.

Obama will veto the $637 billion bill if it reaches him, according to a statement from the White House.

The Senate’s version of the Defense authorization act likely will resemble the White House plan, including the retiree premium increases and higher drug co-pays.

Salary Data

Want to see how much the guy in the next cube over is making? The Asbury Park Press earlier this week released its 2011 database of federal salary and bonus information. Check it out here.

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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