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

Tuition Assistance Hike, TRICARE Changes, Military Pay and More

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Military personnel can expect higher pay and changes to their health benefits next year, although the details are still being worked out. Earlier this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel cleared the National Defense Authorization Act with a 1.6 percent pay raise for troops.

That was half a percent lower than the pay raise included in the House version of the legislation.

As Kellie Lunney reported Tuesday:

The Senate panel’s 1.6 percent figure is the same amount that President Obama has recommended for the military and federal civilian employees in his fiscal 2017 budget. But, like last year, House lawmakers have decided to fully fund the 2017 raise for service members, which according to the formula, would be 2.1 percent in 2017. The formula for determining service members’ annual pay increase is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index and the growth in private-sector wages.

The two chambers will likely have to agree on a final number during conference committee. If this year is like last year, the Senate’s smaller pay increase will prevail.

The other big compensation news in the Senate version relates to military health care benefits. As the personnel committee chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., noted: the bill included “the most comprehensive look at military health care that I’ve ever been involved in.”

Among other things, the bill would:

  • Change the way the services report and process allegations of military assault.
  • Guarantee paid leave for up to six weeks for the primary caregiver of a newborn or adopted child, and three weeks for the secondary caregiver. 
  • Authorize a pilot program that would provide commercial health care coverage to National Guard and Reserve members and their dependents who live in remote areas, as an alternative to TRICARE. 

Veterans pursuing advanced education under the Post 9/11 GI Bill will get more help covering tuition and fees this summer.  

Starting Aug. 1, tuition benefits will go up 4.2 percent for the 2016-2017 academic year—the same rate of increase as last year. According to a notice in the Federal Register, the maximum annual benefit for tuition and fees may not exceed the in-state costs at public schools; $21,970.46 at private and foreign schools; $12,554.54 at vocational schools; and $10,671.35 at correspondence schools.  

On Tuesday, Congress passed the Fallen Heroes Flag Act, which would provide Capitol-flown flags to the families of firefighters, law enforcement officers, members of rescue squads or ambulance crews, and public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who introduced the measure in the Senate in April, said, “We can never repay the debt we owe to them and their families; all we can offer is our eternal gratitude. My hope is that each flag that is flown over the Capitol and provided to these families will be a lasting symbol of our appreciation, and a fitting honor to those who embody the very best of who we are as a nation.”  

And finally, Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, introduced a bill Tuesday that would require the Veterans Affairs Department to provide educational and vocational counseling for veterans on college campuses. We’ll update you when we have more details about what that would entail.

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