A Call for Change to Deployment Pay

High risk military duties have some of the lowest pay.

Service members who are exposed to some of the highest levels of risk often have some of the lowest deployment pay.

When it comes to being deployed, increased risk should mean increased pay, but this just isn’t the case.

I spent quite a bit of time deployed during my four years in the Air Force, serving in Africa, Afghanistan and Qatar, and never once was I directly fired upon by an enemy combatant. The worst I experienced was the occasional mortar attack on the base. After a while it becomes routine, and you just pull your lunch tray under the table, finish your meal and get on with your day.

Despite this, I was paid as much as the military men and women who were outside the wire on missions, running convoys, risking their lives everyday. I was paid as much even if I wasn’t in any discernible danger at all. This is not right.

Following our previous post on the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC), I would like to address one of the biggest changes proposed by the review: the restructuring of deployment pay.

Rewarding Risk

The military divides their deployment pay along two categories: imminent danger pay and hostile fire pay.

Imminent danger pay is received when the service member is in an area in which they have the potential of being fired upon. Hostile fire pay is received when the service member is actively exposed to danger such as direct enemy fire or IEDs.

Service members in either category, regardless of their level of risk, are paid a flat $225 a month.

The new QRMC proposes a multilevel pay scale divided by the amount of risk associated with a certain area. Although the report does not recommend any specific amounts, it makes sense that those who are exposed to the most danger should receive the most pay in compensation.

I don’t necessarily believe that someone deployed to the Philippines or Greece needs imminent danger pay, and someone doing daily patrols through Helmand Province in Afghanistan deserves a lot more than $225 a month.

Combat Taxes

The combat tax zone exclusion (CTZE) benefit is another area where the scale tips in the wrong direction. Again, the main problem is that the amount of money that you receive from the tax exclusion has nothing to do with your level of risk in a deployed environment. Instead, it is based on factors like the size of your family, income level or even when you’re deployed during the year. This is why officers make so much more than enlisted personnel during deployments, because the tax exclusion benefits them that much more.

For example, the average benefit to a lower-level enlisted is around $300 a month. The average benefit to a mid-level officer is closer to $1200 a month. In addition, because the tax code surrounding the CTZE is so complicated, officers making high five figure salaries can often apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program usually reserved for lower income families, making even more money.

The QRMC proposes to do away with the CTZE and replace it with a refundable tax credit based on where the member served. The idea is to equalize the benefits for all service members, giving more money to junior enlisted personnel who should owe less taxes than officers and thereby receive a bigger bonus at the end of the year.

The obvious flaw with this system is that it forces military families to wait until tax season to acquire this extra money, which can be helpful while a military spouse is deployed. However, the new tax credit would mean more money for those who deserve it most, and would benefit junior enlisted much more than the current system.

In the end, there’s no telling what recommendations Congress will act on. These are some pretty big changes that could potentially take money away from many service members, which is always going to receive some resistance. But, I think it’s hard to argue with the fact that the current deployment pay scale is broken and in need of serious reform.

Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army.