Military Times is publishing its annual Benefits Guide, a one-stop resource on the dizzying array of pay and benefits programs offered to active-duty and reserve component service members, retirees, veterans and their families. It has everything they need to know to get the most out of their government benefits.
The guide is a living document, updated each year with changes made by the Pentagon, the Veterans Affairs Department and Congress.
A 20-page special pullout detailing highlights of this year's Benefits Guide is included in all April 18 print editions of Air Force Times, Army Times, Marine Corps Times and Navy Times.
Subscribers can access the full 72-page Benefits Guide online by logging in here, then choosing "Benefits Guide" in the menu on the right side of the screen.
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Some highlights of what's new in this year's guide:
PAY & BENEFITS updates the most important compensation issues that affect service members' wallets, none more so than the annual basic pay raise. In 2016, all members received a pay raise of 1.3 percent effective Jan. 1. In addition to updating all the major pay and allowance rates, this chapter also details major changes to the Thrift Savings Plan that are tied to the major military retirement reform plan that was signed into law in 2015.
SUPPORT SERVICES has details of a new Defense Department expansion of child care services. Child development centers across the military will stay open 14 hours a day, once they have been able to implement the defense secretary's directive. Eligible parents will be entitled to 12 hours of subsidized child care a day.
EDUCATION has information on the Department of Defense Education Activity's transition to "College and Career Ready Standards," an initiative based on the Common Core standards adopted by most states. DoDEA plans to phase in the national standards for math and literacy over the next five years. This chapter also includes details on military education for service members, programs for spouses and how to use GI Bill benefits.
HEALTH CARE details the possibility of changes to the military health system as Congress weighs recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. The commission advised privatizing health care for family members and retirees. While the Defense Department has proposed Tricare changes for years, its fiscal 2017 budget request calls for reorganizing the system and charging higher fees to beneficiaries who choose civilian care rather than military hospitals.
HOUSING includes the latest Basic Allowance for Housing changes as the Defense Department moves a greater share of housing costs to service members.
RECREATION updates developments in various military morale, welfare and recreation programs. Service members, veterans and family members can take advantage of a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities, many of them free. If you want to travel in your free time, don't miss the perks that can make your trips more affordable, including discounts on vacation rentals, cruises, car rentals and military resorts.
MOVING includes details and suggestions for service members dealing with permanent change-of-station moves, including rules on personal vehicle shipments, filing claims for damage on personal property, contacts for setting up a schedule that will take some of the stress out of a process that will almost always fray the nerves.
RETIREMENT details the landmark changes in the military retirement system to take effect in 2018. The system has been transformed from the traditional pension into a "blended" plan that shrinks the size of the current pension by 20 percent and replaces that portion of the benefit with government contributions to individual investment accounts owned by service members. These Thrift Savings Plan accounts will belong to individual service members who complete two years of service.
The following reporters contributed to the Benefits Guide: Karen Jowers, Patricia Kime, Andrew Tilghman, Stephen Losey, Lance M. Bacon, Jim Tice, George Altman, Meghann Myers, Mark D. Faram