NewsBytes March 17, 2023    

In this issue:
Administration’s FY2024 Budget Released
Senior Enlisted Testify on Capitol Hill

Administration’s FY2024 Budget Released
The Biden Administration’s released its FY2024 annual budget request that would spend overall more than $6.8 trillion and would impose a $5.5 trillion tax increases over 10 years. The proposed budget requests $842 billion in Pentagon funding for fiscal 2024, which would be the largest Defense Department budget ever and a $26 billion increase or 3.3 percent more than what Congress approved for the agency this year. There is no request in the budget to enact any new TRICARE fee increases. The proposed Pentagon budget reduces Marine Corps active-duty end strength by 5,000 and increases Navy end strength by 5,000. The overall military end strength will be reduced by 13,000. The budget provides for a 5.2 percent annual pay increase for active-duty personnel. By law, the annual military pay raise is tied to what’s called the Employment Cost Index (ECI) and would take effect at the rate called for in the index Jan. 1, 2024, without any presidential or congressional action. The 5.2 percent proposed raise is consistent with the ECI. It would be the largest raise since a 6.9 percent increase in 2002. By comparison, this year’s raise, which was the largest in a decade, was 4.6 percent. However, this was less than the annual rate of inflation that is approximately 6.5 percent. The FRA believes the Defense budget should provide adequate funding for both “benefits and bullets.”  

The Department of Veterans Affairs request is $325.1 billion in FY2024, a 5.4 percent increase above FY2023 enacted levels. The budget requests $20.3 billion for the recently enacted FRA-supported veteran’s comprehensive toxic exposure law (PACT Act) — $15.3 billion more than 2023 — for health care, research and benefits delivery associated with exposure to environmental hazards for veterans and their survivors. This VA budget provides $16.6 billion in 2024 for mental health efforts, including suicide prevention — up from $15.0 billion in 2023. As a part of that, the budget includes $559 million for veteran suicide prevention outreach programs and an estimated $2.5 billion in suicide-specific medical treatment. The proposed VA budget invests $3.1 billion in providing homeless veterans — and veterans at-risk of homelessness — with permanent housing, access to health care and other supportive services. FRA supports budget initiatives to help ensure adequate funding for the VA, with special attention for VA health care to ensure access and care for all beneficiaries.

Senior Enlisted Testify on Capitol Hill
The military senior enlisted summarized prepared testimony and ranked their respective quality-of-life concerns before separate hearings at the House Military Construction VA and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (MilCon/VA) and the House Armed Services, Military personnel Subcommittee (HASC-MP). Those testifying included:

Master Chief Petty Officer James M. Honea, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
Sergeant Major Troy E. Black, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps
Sergeant Major Michael A. Grinston, Sergeant Major of the Army
Chief Master Sergeant Joanne S. Bass, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
Chief Master Sergeant Roger A. Towberman, Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force

These hearings focused on not just quality of life concerns but also on the impact these matters are having on recruitment and retention. Military recruiters claim that 2022 was the most difficult recruiting year since 1973. The military obtained only 85 percent of its recruiting goals. 

Rep. Jim Banks HASC-MP Chairman noted that congress needs to do more for enlisted personnel in terms of housing problems, better access to healthcare, food insecurity, adequate childcare.    

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) James Honea noted that although the military has seen a 4.6 percent basic pay increase in fiscal year 2023, we are still falling below current inflation rates. This has a ripple effect, as our Sailors continue to find themselves struggling to house themselves, feed their families, and find safe and affordable childcare. For our single sailors, I want to create balance by separating work from home, allowing all of them to live in unaccompanied housing, away from the shipboard environment. If we want to retain our professional and qualified service members, we must continue to close the pay gap between military compensation and the private sector, and ensure they have a secure place to live. We also ask their families to share in the weight of service – with the high unemployment rate for military spouses due in part to frequent relocations, many Navy families are unable to share in the benefits of dual incomes like their non-military peers. MCPON noted that the Navy and all of the other branches of the military service members who were forced out of the military because they refused the COVID vaccine, but had requested a waiver that was denied, now have a path for rejoining.

Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps (SMMC) Troy Black noted in his testimony that in the face of a lower propensity to serve, a smaller recruiting pool, and other challenges, the Marines made their recruiting goals for 2022. (In part because the Marine Corps cut their end strength by 1500.) He noted that 16 percent of Marine Corps barracks are in poor or failing condition. In 2022, the Marine Corps renovated 14 barracks and the Marine Corps plans to renovate 16 barracks in 2023. 

The FRA welcomes these subcommittee hearings to allow for legislators to hear enlisted concerns.  At the subcommittee hearing there was broad bipartisan concern that military pay in recent years is not keeping pace with inflation and a bipartisan desire to reform compensation and benefits to compete with the private sector in the middle of a recruiting decline.    

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