Top Lawmakers Want 15 Percent Pay Raise for Enlisted Troops

A bipartisan law co-sponsored by the leaders of the House Armed Services Committee would boost pay by 15 percent for junior enlisted troops and seek to improve several quality of life issues.

The bill to improve U.S. military service members’ quality of life will form a fundamental part of the Fiscal Year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual law that funds most of the military. The bipartisan bill, Service Member Quality of Life Improvement Act, was introduced a week after the House Armed Services Committee published its Quality of Life report, an investigation of long-running concerns, including child care shortages, insufficient housing allowance, dilapidated barracks, and long wait times for medical appointments. 

The report made a list of recommendations to help solve those issues, and HASC members vowed to write them into the 2025 NDAA. Although Congress is struggling to balance a range of competing modernization priorities as the military prepares for a possible conflict with China, lawmakers say a top priority for defense legislation is quality of life.

“We’re going to find the room in that bill to do this,” HASC Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said last week. “We’re going to have complications. I’m not going to argue that we won’t. But it won’t be because of this, it’s because of a whole spectrum of threats and platforms and issues. But this is going to be done.”

The committee seems to have taken a step in that direction by writing several of the report’s recommendations into the bedrock of the 2025 NDAA. 

“Service members should never have to worry about making ends meet, putting food on the table, or affording housing,” Rogers said in a release April 18. “Improving the quality of life for our service members and their families is my number one priority—we’re going to get this done.”

“This year’s bill leaves no doubt that the heart of America’s defense will get the recognition and resources they need and deserve,” Smith, the ranking member of the HASC who co-sponsored the bill, said in the release.

The first provision of the bill is to reform rates of monthly basic pay for troops ranked E-1 through E-4. For example, enlisted troops at the rank of E-3 with two years or fewer in service currently make $2,377.50 a month. Under the new bill, they would make $2,733.90 a month, a 15 percent increase. The raise is meant to keep pace with increasing wages for civilian low-income jobs, which have risen faster than higher-income earnings, leaving junior enlisted troops relatively shortchanged.

“This will restore real value to basic pay,” the Quality of Life Panel report said.

Beyond a pay raise, the bill would also evaluate the rates of basic allowance for subsistence and cost of living allowance; expand income eligibility for basic needs allowance from 150 percent to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines; and appropriate $1.2 billion for upping the basic allowance for housing from 95 percent to 100 percent of the calculated rate for military housing areas.

The bill would also aim to pay child development center (CDC) workers more; make every service cover 100 percent of child care fees for the first child of a staff member at a CDC and reduce fees for additional children; fully fund requests for financial assistance to eligible civilian child care and youth program providers; and require a regular briefing from the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the state of child care waitlists, capacity at CDCs, and efforts to shorten those waitlists.

For housing, the 2025 NDAA would require each service provide increased transparency on how it spends money on barracks sustainment, restoration, and modernization. It would also require developing criteria for digital facilities management systems that would enable better tracking of building health and maintenance plans. The services would also have to explore leasing property to address the shortage of unaccompanied housing and conduct an independent assessment of how to fix that shortage.

To improve access to health care, the bill would waive referral requirements for Active-duty service members seeking help with physical therapy, nutrition, audiology, optometry, podiatry, and several areas of women’s health care. Staffing shortages across the military health system contribute to long wait times for medical appointments, and the bill requires an annual survey and reports on what strategies work to retain military medical providers.

About one in five military spouses are unemployed. To address that, the 2025 NDAA would extend the Defense Department’s authority to help state governments create interstate compacts so that spouses in licensed professions can work in other states more easily. That authority expires Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, under the current law, though the new bill does not specify an end date for its extension. 

Beyond interstate compacts, the 2025 NDAA would also direct the Defense Department to help military spouses find paid fellowships in various industries and expand eligibility for child care for military spouses seeking employment from 90 days to at least 180 days.

Not all of the recommendations from the Quality of Life Panel report made it into the bill, but the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.), said it would still help.

“I look forward to its monumental impact on our service members and their families,” she said.