The approval of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 provides a number of changes for Airmen, retirees, and families, to include stabilizing readiness and end strength, improving pilot retention, modernizing compensation and benefits and enhancing transparency in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The NDAA authorizes an overall increase in manpower by 4,000 Airmen increasing the Air Force active forces end strength to 321,000.
For personnel compensation and benefits, effective Jan.1, the monthly basic pay will increase by 2.1 percent, and while there will not be any changes made to the administration of the housing allowance the NDAA directs the defense department to begin planning for a transition to a single-salary pay system no later than Jan. 1, 2018. The goal is to create a system that better aligns the payment with the DOD’s use of the housing allotment as compensation rather than as an allowance.
The NDAA additionally authorizes the Air Force to increase aviation retention pay from $25,000 to $35,000 per year and flight pay up to $1,000 per month as needed to address manning shortfalls and challenges.
Also addressing staffing challenges, the Air Force is required to transition to an organizational model with enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilots by Sept. 30, 2020, for the regular component and 2023 for the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.
The NDAA also directs improvements to military health care. One provision authorizes the Secretary of Defense to establish a self-managed, preferred-provider network option under the TRICARE program. This program – ‘TRICARE Select’ – will be available to active duty family members, retirees, reserve, and young adults. Under TRICARE Select, eligible beneficiaries will not have restrictions on the freedom of choice of the beneficiary with respect to health care providers. Cost sharing requirements are determined by prior military status. In addition, some additional cost sharing fees for Tricare Prime retirees and family members and small increases to annual enrollment will be implemented. Another provision requires the DOD to improve access to urgent care services in both military medical treatment facilities and the private sector, while also requiring Military Treatment Facilities to expand hours on weekdays and weekends to ensure the availability of primary care services.
In addition, the NDAA authorizes up to 12 weeks of total leave for a primary caregiver, including up to six weeks of medical convalescent leave, to be used in connection with the birth of a child. It also allows a primary caregiver up to six weeks of total leave to be used in the case of an adoption. In each instance, a secondary caregiver is also authorized up to 21 days of leave.
This year’s authorization also contains a number of civilian hiring provisions, including direct-hire authorities for post-secondary students and recent graduates, wage schedule employees, financial management experts, industrial base facilities, major range and test facilities, and positions at DOD research and engineering laboratories. The NDAA also returned a restriction on the appointment of retired members of the armed forces to civil service positions in the DOD within 180 days of their retirement. Previous statute allowed that restriction to be waived based on a state of national emergency.
The first major reforms to the UCMJ in 30 years were also part of the authorization. The implementation of the reforms should improve efficiency and transparency, while also enhancing victims’ rights. The reforms include expanding the statute of limitations for child abuse offenses and fraudulent enlistment, and establishing new offenses ranging from improper use of government computers to retaliation to prohibited activities with military recruits and trainees by a person in a position of special trust.
For more information and the full text of the NDAA, visit https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings-and-legislation/ndaa-national-defense-authorization-act.