President Donald Trump on Dec. 12 signed a massive defense bill that authorizes everything from troop pay raises to military end strength in fiscal 2018.
The Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes about $700 billion for the Defense Department, including $634 billion for the base budget and $66 billion for the war budget. The figures are targets, and Congress still faces a year-end deadline to pass an accompanying spending bill to keep the government running.
Even so, the authorization bill approved by Congress includes numerous policy-related provisions, many of which are in line with what the president requested, though it authorized additional funding for higher pay raises, more weapons, and more troops.
“History teaches us that when you weaken your defenses, you invite aggression,” Trump said before signing the bill. “The best way to prevent conflict of any kind is to be prepared. Only when the good are strong will peace prevail.”
The president added, “Today, with the signing of this defense bill, we accelerate the process of fully restoring America’s military might. This legislation will enhance our readiness and modernize our forces and help provide our service members with the tools they need to fight and win.”
Trump acknowledged Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for their work in preparing the bipartisan bill. He also called on Congress to eliminate spending caps known as sequestration and approve a “clean” appropriations bill.
So what’s in the defense authorization bill for you? Here’s a rundown of the top changes:
2.4% troop pay raise
Troops will see a 2.4 percent pay raise in 2018. That’s the largest year-over-year increase service members have received since 2010.
20,000 more troops
The military will grow by some 20,000 troops. The Army will increase by 7,500 soldiers, the Navy by 4,000 sailors, the Marine Corps by 1,000 Marines, and the Air Force by about 4,100 airmen. Reserve forces will grow by about 3,400 reservists.
Higher Tricare co-pays
Previously, many retirees and military dependents paid nothing for many prescriptions. That’s about to change, as co-pays will increase under the Tricare pharmacy program. The increases won’t apply to disabled retirees, their dependents, and dependents of service members who died on active duty.
Cuts “Widow’s Tax”
The bill reduces the so-called “Widow’s Tax” by making permanent the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance, or SSIA, which pays $310 a month to military widows and widowers whose Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments were offset as a result of receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
License rebates for spouses
Military spouses who get a new professional license or certification after a permanent change of station move will be able to apply for a $500 rebate from the Defense Department.
Eases PCS moves
The bill authorizes a program to allow some families of troops who are changing duty stations to move before or after the service member for job, school or other reasons. The initiative also allows the service member to utilize government housing, if available.
Reservist health care
The legislation mandates for all mobilized Reserve Component members to receive pre-mobilization and transitional health care.
Criminalizes revenge porn
The bill allows for court-martial punishment for troops who engage in so-called “revenge porn,” or the unauthorized sharing or distribution of “an intimate visual image of a private area of another person.”
Creates training database
The legislation authorizes the creation of a new database to record all training completed by military members. This information will be made available to employers and states to help veterans get certifications or licenses, or claim their military experience when applying for a civilian job.
Retirees as recruiters
The bill calls for the creation of a pilot program to use retired senior enlisted Army National Guard members as recruiters.
1911s for commercial sale
The bill would allow recently confirmed Army Secretary Mark Esper to transfer 8,000 or more of the Army’s iconic .45-caliber M1911/M1911A1 pistols, spare parts and related accessories to the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety as part of a two-year pilot program.