Military Sends Out Half-Pay Notice to War Zone Troops

Friday, 08 Apr 2011 06:59 PM

By David A. Patten

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Some 1.4 million active-duty military personnel and their families got a rude awakening Friday, as the federal government notified them that their next paycheck will be cut in half due to the possible government shutdown.

The military department that manages distribution of paychecks, the Defense Financing and Accounting Service (DFAS), posted the Government Shutdown, Military Pay, Troops, Afghanistan, Iraqfollowing advisory on its website: “Due to the government shutdown, the Department of Defense has no legal authority to pay any personnel -- military or civilian -- for the days during which the government is shut down.”

The current continuing resolution to fund government operations, including the military, expires at midnight Friday, and the current pay period continues through April 15. So without an end to the standoff in Washington, active-duty military personnel will only receive half their normal pay on April 15.

“We can only pay when we have appropriations,” a source with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service tells Newsmax. “Therefore, if appropriations were to terminate at midnight tonight, we can only pay through midnight tonight. We cannot invent money.”

The source said advice-of-payment notices usually only go out three or four days before payday, so the department is trying to understand why they went out this early. “This is one of those unusual situations where unusual things happen,” he said.

The news of the unexpected pay cut came as a big surprise to many military service men and women, who thought they would avoid an interruption in normal pay in the current cycle.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates alluded to the payroll problem on Thursday, when he spoke to 200 soldiers in Baghdad. “As a historian it always occurred to me the smart thing for government was always to pay the guys with guns first,” Gates quipped.

“But in all seriousness,” he added, “based on some stuff I read this morning, if the government shutdown starts on the 8th and goes for a week, you’d get a half a check. If it goes from the 15th to the 30th, you wouldn’t get a pay check on the 30th but you would be back paid for all of it.

“So that’s the deal and … I remember when I was your age I did a lot of living from pay check to pay check and so I hope this thing doesn’t happen,” he said.

Marine Corps Sgt. Gary Stein tells Newsmax that he only learned about the payroll reduction on Friday afternoon when he logged onto the MyPay.Dfas.mil site, which military personnel use to track their paychecks.

Waiting for him on the site was a pay notice informing him that he would receive only one week of pay on April 15.

“There are thousands of military members in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Japan who have enough to worry about on their plate," Stein tells Newsmax. “And now they have to worry about their families back home -- whether it be in Texas or Arizona or whatever state they’re in -- not getting the money they need. But in essence they’re over there fighting for free.”

A Pentagon spokesman told The Associated Press that if the shutdown were resolved by Tuesday, it might still be possible for service personnel to receive their normal amount of pay on April 15. A source told Newsmax the adjustment might involve issuing a second check to each member of the active-duty military. The DFAS source told Newsmax: “It would be our intent to make that as seamless as possible.”

But the worry is the delay required to issue a second paycheck to some 1.4 million people might delay the normal cash flow people are counting on.

“People are pretty concerned,” Sgt. Stein tells Newsmax. “I’m active duty myself. I have a landlord to pay, car payments, insurance. And they haven’t even settled whether we are going to have a shutdown yet. But they’re like, ’Well, were going to keep their pay anyway.”

Stein, the founder of the Armed Forces Tea Party group on Facebook, tells Newsmax he received a blizzard of e-mails and phone calls Friday afternoon from concerned active-duty military personnel, who received similar notices.

He also says the commissary at his base at Camp Pendleton has informed service personnel that it will close Saturday. Expenses for military families will significantly increase if they have to purchase their groceries at stores located off the base.

“My first reaction was, why so soon? Why jumping the gun? Why just assuming that a shutdown was going to happen?” Stein tells Newsmax. He adds: “What message does this send to our military? …It just seems like the upper echelon of the political world doesn’t care.”

On Thursday, by a 247-181 vote, the House passed what Republicans called a “troop funding bill.” It would pay for military operations through September.

"If you vote against this bill,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., “you are voting against the troops, who are engaged in three wars."

But Democrats in the Senate rejected the bill, because it called for $12 billion in discretionary spending cuts as well.

The Armed Force Tea Party group on Facebook is calling for local tea party groups, businesses, and citizens to donate gas cards, canned food, diapers, and household good to help military families in their local areas who are hit hard by the payroll interruption.

Other information on the payroll situation from DSAS:
  • On-duty military reserve members reportedly would be affected by the half paychecks as well.
  • Because retirees are not paid from continuing-resolution appropriations, they would not be affected.
  • Because the normal pay period for civilian employees ends on Saturday April 9, they are expected to receive a full paycheck for this cycle.
  • Contract and vendor payments will continue, according to DFAS, but only if the terms of their contracts provide for work to continue during a shutdown.

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