A US Marine from Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines Regiment conducts a patrol in Garmser, Helmand Province on June 29, 2012 (image credit Adek Berry/AFP/Getty)
Washington, DC (written by Andrew Tilghman/Military Times) -- The military's current framework for compensating troops in combat is broken and needs to be radically overhauled, according to the newly released 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation.
The report, required by law every four years, concluded that "there is little correlation between exposure to danger and compensation benefits."
The thrust of the report affirms that while deploying to a combat zone can be generally lucrative in terms of compensation, greater danger doesn't necessarily mean more money -- in fact, far from it.
Take the example of a junior enlisted soldier deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan. He's living in a tent and getting shot at routinely, for which he gets a flat $225 per month in "hostile fire pay" and a "combat-zone tax exclusion" worth a few hundred dollars a month.
Meanwhile, a higher-ranking Navy sailor assigned to Bahrain also gets a stipend, "imminent danger pay," worth that same $225 a month. And his combat-zone tax exclusion will be worth well over $1,250 a month. Bahrain is technically part of a designated combat zone, but the Navy deems the risk to be so low that a sailor can relocate his family there, send his kids to local schools and go out drinking at local bars for happy hour.
Military data show that junior enlisted troops are far more likely to suffer serious or fatal combat injuries than troops at other paygrades.
The report concluded military troops are paid well compared with civilians who have similar levels of education. After a decade of higher-than-average pay raises, military compensation for enlisted personnel is better than 90 percent of civilians in similar careers, according to the report; for officers, that drops to 83 percent of civilians.
It's unclear which -- if any -- of the new report's recommendations may become reality. Proposals on combat pay, incentive pays and reservists' compensation would require high-level approval by the Pentagon and changes in law by Congress.
Historically, the QRMC's record is mixed. The last one, in 2008, offered a detailed outline for changing the military's retirement system, but that received little political support and led to no real changes.
Yet some QRMCs do have an impact. The final 1997 report recommended an overhaul of the military pay scales to boost the reward for promotion relative to time in service. That helped lay the groundwork for a series of targeted pay raises over the next few years for certain paygrades.
In 2002, the QRMC made an additional recommendation that education be considered when setting pay levels for the enlisted ranks, which also was adopted. Both proposals led to significant increases in pay for many enlisted troops.
With all that in mind, the QRMC says Congress and the Pentagon should consider a series of measures to "strengthen the relationship between combat and compensation so that combat compensation more appropriately rewards those service members who face the greatest possibility of being injured or losing their lives as a result of hostile action."
The QRMC's recommendations -- which would require approval from Congress -- call for two major changes to today's pay plan to give more money to troops who are most often in harm's way.
One change would set hostile fire pay higher than imminent danger pay. Now, they're both $225 per month, allowing for no monetary distinction between an infantryman deployed to the most dangerous places in the world and an administrative officer working in the Philippines, Cuba or Greece.
The QRMC also suggests that imminent danger pay could be broken down into several categories that offer more money for increased risk.
The result would be to replace today's flat payment of $225 with a multilevel pay scale that offers more money to troops who face more danger, and less -- or even no -- additional money for troops who face low-level risks.
The report does not recommend any specific amounts for the new combat pays.
A second and potentially more significant proposal would eliminate the current combat-zone tax exclusion and replace it with a tax credit that puts more cash in the pockets of lower-ranking troops.
Another key recommendation from the QRMC calls on the president to conduct an annual review of the list of areas eligible for imminent danger pay and the combat-zone tax exclusion.