Getting back to the basics


Getting back to the basics

by: Kim Suchek | .
published: May 08, 2012

I know a lot of you reading this are “old pros” and have been in the military community for many years, so this article is for the “newbies.” I want to go over the basics: DEERS, military pay and allowances.

As a DEERS operator, Family Assistance Coordinator with the Army National Guard and past president of Operation Homefront of Michigan, I was amazed at the lack of attention given to keeping this information updated and the lack of knowledge spouses had in these areas.

DEERS keeps military families’ health and life insurance in place. It also gives them access to bases facilities. I cannot express the importance of keeping this updated. Any time you or your service member experience a significant life event, update DEERS within 30 days. If you don’t, you may experience a break in your benefits. Have you checked your DEERS account lately?

So, what about pay and that sometimes-tough-to-understand LES? Below are excerpts from my book that touch on pay and allowances.

Military Pay is another area that shocked me. I was so surprised when I would help the spouse of a service member with financial assistance and find they had NO CLUE as to how much their service member earned. Sometimes they would come to me with no knowledge of how to read an LES (Leave and Earnings Statement), or with incorrect or no financial information from the service member. And sometimes they were deliberately miss-informed. Spouses were clueless about such concepts as special pay, allowances, raises, flight pay etc. I know I will probably have many service members upset with me for letting the “cat out of the bag” so to speak, but don’t military families go through enough? Why should a spouse have to sacrifice more than they already do, or scramble to find money to fix something when the service member has the money and the spouse does not know? So hold your hats spouses, it’s going to be a bumpy ride! Basic pay, allowances and special pay are affected by your service member’s military occupation, pay grade, where they are stationed and deployment status. I will attempt to give you just a brief description of these so that you can see what may apply to your family and goals.

This is your service member’s base paycheck and they are the same across all branches of the service. The only differences in basic pay are pay grade and, to a small degree, the number of years your service member has been in the service.

• Additional Pay: Your service member may qualify for additional pay because of any unique training or specialty, where his/her duty station is located and whether they are in a combat zone. Your family may also receive allowances for food, clothing and shelter.

The following is a list of specialty pay and bonuses:

• Hazardous Duty Pay: While your service member is deployed overseas on Title 10 Orders, he/she is usually getting paid more money. The activities and situations they are exposed to dictate the compensation.

• $225 per month for Hostile Fire and Imminent Danger Pay: Additional pay for those occasions when your service member is subject to hostile fire or explosion.

• $50 to $150 per month for Hardship Duty Pay: For service member living and working in extremely difficult living conditions or enduring excessive physical hardship.

• $150 per month for Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay: In addition to living and working in a danger zone, under as jumping out of airplanes or handling explosives.

• $150 to $350 per month for Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay for Flying: Service member or aircrews (except pilots) receive this additional pay. Pilots are paid additionally for their job specialty but it is in a different category. Your service member is only entitled to any two of these hazardous duty pays that apply at any one time.

• Unique Training or Specialty Pay: Each branch of the armed services pays extra if the service member acquires the unique skills or specialized training for certain military occupations; he/she may also be eligible for certain bonuses. For example, aviation officers earn an extra $125 to $840 per month. Sea duty brings $50-$730 a month, and diving duty up to $340 per month. Proficiency in a foreign language that has been deemed critical can earn up to $1000 per month in extra income.

•  Special Bonuses: The military offers certain bonus to help encourage service members to continue longer retention of its service members. This can be important for not only specialty fields but also for the extra cost it would be to retrain service members.

Re-enlistment: Bonuses vary depending on training, specialty, willingness to accept undesirable assignments and length of service. It is sad to think after so many years they no longer get bonuses to re-enlist but that is the way the government works.


In addition to their basic paycheck with any additional special pay they may earn, your military member receives a family allowance if he is married or has other dependents. These allowances are to help cover increases in the cost of living, as well as additional expenses related to food, clothing and shelter if they live off base.

•  Cost of Living Allowance (COLA): The cost of living varies from city to city. Since basic pay is the same no matter where you live, the military will provide a monthly cost of living allowance (COLA) to help make up this imbalance in compensation. COLA depends on the assigned duty station, pay grade, length of time in the service and whether there are dependents. If you live in a location that the military regards as a high cost area, you will receive a COLA increase whether you live on base or off.

Visit for details on the current COLA adjustment for various locations and your personal situation.

•  Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS): This shows as BAS on your pay stub and is intended to offset the cost of food for the military member NOT THE FAMILY. The amount is adjusted annually. The monthly BAS paid to an officer is about $200 and the amount provided to enlisted is almost $300. This allowance is paid to all military members whether they dine in the mess hall or off base. Be careful with this though, as government-provided meals are only partially subsidized.

• Clothing Allowances: Service members receive a one-time payment clothing allowance after commissioning to buy clothing. Enlisted receive uniforms and an annual clothing maintenance allowance. If your service member is required to wear civilian duds as part of his duty assignment, the service will provide an allowance for this additional expense.

•  Per Diem: While traveling on official military business, the military member is entitled to a daily allotment to reimburse them for the cost of food and lodging so the military member does not have to use money out of their pockets to pay for the business trip. To check the per diem rate for your state, go to

• Housing Allowances (BAH): Basic Allowance for Housing (also known as BAH) is provided to service members to adjust for the additional costs of living off base. The actual amount of BAH is based on the local rental housing market, pay grade and number of dependents. Keep a couple of things in mind when you are adding up the housing allowance; first, BAH is a set amount and your actual housing expense can be higher than your BAH. You can review this at

Second, BAH is paid out automatically when you apply for off base housing and if you and your spouse are both employed by the military, each of you is entitled to the BAH. If you live together, one of you can claim BAH with dependents and the other must register at the single rate. You should have the service member with the highest pay grade claim dependents so you receive the highest BAH. If a service member is stationed overseas and lives off base, they don’t receive BAH. Instead they receive Special Overseas Housing Allowance, or OHA. This allowance is intended to offset the actual coast of rent, utilities and recurring maintenance expenses. Unlike BAH, OHA is NOT a set monthly amount. While you are eligible for OHA, you also qualify for a move-in housing allowance to cover the purchase of necessities; one-time fees, such as real estate agent fees or lease taxes; and reimbursements for required security expenses. If you are unable to stay in government housing when you first report to a permanent duty station outside of the USA (OCONUS) for some other reason beyond your control, you may be eligible for an overseas temporary lodging allowance; generally up to 60 days.

• Dislocation Allowance: A military member or family must periodically relocate due to a change in duty stations or as required by the government. A dislocation allowance or DLA ranging from about $1,800 to nearly $4,000 is granted to help offset your relocation expenses. The DLA rate is dependent on pay grade. This allowance does not apply toward the costs your family incurs locating to the first duty station after initial training.

• Family Separation Allowance (FSA): When your service member is away for more than 30 days, you are entitled to the Family Separation Allowance of $250 per month. If your service member is assigned to a permanent duty station where dependents are not allowed or if your spouse is on duty on board a ship at sea for more than 30 days you will be entitled to the FSA.

Military members earn two and a half (2 ½) days leave per month, or 30 days each year. Service members leave can accumulate for up to 75 days-over two full years and if they don’t use it they will lose it. Active duty unable to take leave because of operational duties may carry forward as many as 120 days leave for up to three to four years depending on circumstances. This carryover happens automatically. If the active duty member retires or transitions out of the armed forces with unused leave, they may receive a cash buyout of their unused leave. Enlisted service members may now sell back up to 30 days of special accrued leave earned in a combat zone or designated contingency operation. This is an especially valuable benefit because payment for leave earned under these circumstances is not taxed; however you can’t cash out more than sixty (60) days’ worth of leave.

Having never lived overseas, I can only guess at the trials and tribulations military families go through and understand that it is quite different than living in the United States with your family and friends close at hand. I hope you will reach out and allow me to assist with making your lives easier, if not better. We as military families need to share our knowledge to help make the military community stronger.

For the latest news and resources, go to Blessing from my family to yours.

If you have any questions or concerns or would like to share a story or situation, contact me at and visit my website for updated information and other resources not listed in my book.

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