Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Senate personnel provisions in the NDAA reflect a comprehensive look at military health care.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Senate personnel provisions in the NDAA reflect a comprehensive look at military health care. Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Senate Panel Approves 1.6 Percent Pay Raise for Troops in 2017

The recommended increase is less than the 2.1 percent boost House lawmakers support.

Military personnel would receive a 1.6 percent pay raise next year under a Senate bill that lawmakers advanced on Tuesday -- 0.5 percent less than what they would get under the House version of the legislation.

The pay provision is included in the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization bill, which the full Senate Armed Services Committee will begin marking up on Wednesday and expects to complete on Friday. The panel’s Personnel Subcommittee reported out the legislation on Tuesday morning.

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 House Armed Services Committee reported out that chamber’s fiscal 2017 NDAA on April 28.

A 1.6 percent pay raise could save the Defense Department more than $300 million in fiscal 2017, Pentagon officials have said.

The different figures likely means that the two chambers will have to agree on a final number during conference committee. The House approved a 2.3 percent pay raise for troops in the 2016 NDAA, but the Senate’s version, which included the administration’s recommended 1.3 percent bump, ultimately prevailed.

The bill reported out by the Senate subcommittee on Tuesday also included a reauthorization of bonuses and special pay aimed at recruiting and retaining troops, as well as several provisions affecting the military’s massive health care system. The bill authorizes 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 coverage.

The legislation also would 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. The Defense secretary actually has broad discretion over determining paid maternity leave, and this winter Ash Carter increased DoD’s maternity leave from six to 12 weeks. But Congress has to approve any changes to paternity leave, and this legislation would do that by increasing paid leave for the secondary caregiver from the current allotment of 10 days.

The subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., praised the personnel provisions in the legislation, noting that the bill included “the most comprehensive look at military health care that I’ve ever been involved in.”

Several provisions affecting the reporting and processing of military sexual assaults are included in the Senate panel’s 2017 NDAA as well. One measure would require Defense to include the number and description of sexual assaults in domestic abuse situations. “We will now have a better picture of the scope of sexual assault against military members and dependents, which is something that has been sorely lacking for years,” said the subcommittee’s Ranking Member Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a vocal advocate for changing how military sexual assault cases are handled and reported by the department.