Armed Forces News

Service members will receive a 3-percent increase in basic pay on Jan. 1, under the 2021 defense spending bill approved by both the House and Senate. (The House version cleared the chamber Dec. 8 by a 335-78 vote – making it veto-proof.)

The measure calls for $635.5 billion discretionary base for the Defense Department, a $26.6 billion discretionary base for the Department of Energy, and $500 million for defense-related activities – a total of $662.6 billion. An additional $69 billion to fund overseas contingency operations and $8.9 billion in defense-related activities outside of the defense bill’s jurisdiction brings the total to $740.5 billion.

Personnel-related provisions include:

* Setting active-duty end-strength levels at 485,900 for the Army, 347,800 for the Navy, 181,200 for the Marine Corps, and 333,475 for the Air Force (including the Space Force).

* A host of actions aimed at getting a handle on the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic. This includes maintenance of adequate supplies, laboratory testing and research, a TRICARE registry of diagnoses, quarantine protocols, protection of reservists’ retirement eligibility, a study of financial hardships, and expansion of VA telemedicine.

* Enhancements to spouse-employment and child care/education programs.

* Continuation of the overhaul of privatized housing, to ensure that residences are up to standard and displaced families are accommodated.

* Protection of career-advancement opportunities for pregnant service members.

* Free access to national parks and federal recreational lands for Gold Star families.

* Easier travel for families when they visit seriously injured service members overseas.

* Continued funding for Stars and Stripes, the military news organization.

* Improved voting access for those serving overseas and their families.

* Improved health care for service members, families and retirees, with a focus on ensuring readiness at a maximum value. Benefits under TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Plan have been extended. Suicide prevention is getting additional attention as well.

* Enhanced protection and reporting process for victims of sexual assault.

Defense Bill Addresses Paid Parental Leave Loophole, Use or Lose Leave Limits
The House and Senate have passed a final version of the annual defense authorization bill, which among other things would close the loophole in the paid parental leave authority for federal employees and temporarily raise “use or lose” annual leave limits.

Congress Kicks Shutdown Threat Down the Road, but Not Far
The House and Senate have approved an extension of temporary spending authority through December 18 that President Trump is expected to sign, pushing off by a week a deadline to prevent a partial government shutdown while negotiations continue over spending and policy issues and further pandemic relief measures.

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