Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

March 20, 2006  



Military panel wants pay equity for singles

by Thomas F. Coleman

A few months ago, I stated that "service members, their parents, and other family members are complaining that military personnel who are married are being given preferential treatment at the expense of those who are single."  I explained that "whether it is housing, pay, or support services, unmarried personnel seem to get left-over scraps." (Column One, Dec. 19, 2005)

Much to my surprise, I recently learned that a blue ribbon panel will issue a report next month recommending that the pay of unmarried military personnel be raised to the same level as married personnel.

The report of the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation, or DACMC, calls for an end a pay disparity for single service members that seems to have started during World War I and has continued ever since.  The committee is chaired by retired Navy Adm. Donald L. Pilling.

Pilling has already briefed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other military leaders about the panel's recommendations.

To provide pay equity to some 589,000 single service members, the committee will recommend two actions:

Eliminate the “without dependents” rate for Basic Allowance for Housing and for Overseas Housing Allowance, thus moving unmarried members to the higher “with dependents” rate. This would raise tax-free housing allowances in stateside areas by an average of about $5,300 a year for single officers and $4,400 a year for single enlisted members.

Eliminate the $250-a-month Family Separation Allowance as part of a “consolidation” of special and incentive pays tied to deployments and hardship tours. FSA is currently paid to married members during temporary duty assignments lasting more than 30 days. It widens the pay disparity between married and single members by $1,500 during six-month tours at sea or by $3,000 during year-long tours in Iraq.

One major premise of the committee is that military pay must be competitive with private employers in order to sustain an all-volunteer force.  Given this necessity, the committee suggests that historical disparities between married and unmarried military personnel are hard to defend.

"Giving 25 percent more in allowances to married members, on average, increasingly is a source of heartburn to single members with options elsewhere.," according to Tom Philpott, a military affairs journalist for Stars and Stripes. "No other major employer pays workers differently based on marital status," he noted in a recent story about the upcoming report of the blue ribbon panel.

The upcoming report of this committee will not be the final word on the subject.  The findings and recommendations will lay a foundation for a more extensive pay study that will soon get under way.

Every four years, the President of the United States directs a complete review of the principles and concepts of the compensation system for members of the uniformed services.  President George W. Bush issued a memo last August directing the Secretary of Defense to initiate the 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation.

The QRMC will be staffed by Defense and service pay experts and a final report will be sent to Congress.

This larger study will be one worth monitoring to see if recommendations to end pay and benefits disparity between married and single service members is adopted or buried.  If these proposals do make it through the next level of debate, the ultimate test will be whether the idea of greater fairness for single military members will survive scrutiny by a Congress dominated by "pro-family" conservatives.

The recommendations of the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation should give singles in the military a degree of hope, but the ultimate test will be how well those advocating the changes are able to maneuver through the "culture war" minefields of American politics.

© Unmarried America 2006

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.