Military Pay: Controversy Over Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay and Family Separation Allowance Rates
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS W eb
Military Pay: Controve rsy Ove r
Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay and
Family Separation Allow ance Rates
Specialist i n N ational Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and T r ade Division
R ecent l y, cont roversy h as surfaced over t he rat e of pay for t wo s peci fi c t yp e s of
military compensation: Hostile Fi re/Imminen t D anger P ay (HF/ IDP) and t he Family
Separation Allowance (FS A). The rates for thes e f o r m s of compensation were
temporarily increased for FY2003 by the Emergency Wartime Supplemental
Appropriations Act, 2003, and ex t ended b y a continuing resolution, H.J .Res. 69. If no
further action i s t aken by Congress, the s tatutory authority for t he h i gh er rat e s will
ex pire on October 31, 2003. However, both t he House and Senate versions of the 2004
Emergency S upplemental Appropriations b ill for Iraq and Afgh anistan contain
provisions to ex tend the h igher rates of HF/IDP and FSA through S eptember 30, 2004.
Additi onally, both t he House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authoriz ation
Act for FY2004 have provisions that would p er manently raise t he rates for HF/IDP and
FS A, although t he House p rovision is targeted more narrowly.
The Department of Defense opposes continuing the h i gher rates for HF/ IDP and
FS A but has an alternative p roposal to maintain total compensation for those s erving in
a combat z one, o r i n d irect support o f a combat z one, t hrough i ncreased use o f Hardship
This report des cribes the s tatutory authority for and pu rp o s e of t hese forms of
compensation, recent l egislative i nitiatives related t o t hem, the Department of Defense
(DOD) position on t hese matters, and some implications of the DOD position.
Hostile Fire or Imminent Danger P ay. Hostile Fi re or Immi n e n t D a n ger Pay
(HF/ IDP) is authoriz ed by 37 U.S.C. 310, which p rovides a special pay for “duty s ubject
to hostile fire or imminent danger.” Although D O D r e gu l a tions distinguish between
Hostile Fi re Pay and Imminent Danger P ay, t hey are both derived from t he same stat ute
and an i ndividual can only collect Hostile Fi re Pay or Imminent Danger P ay, not both
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
simultaneously.1 The purpose o f t his p ay is to compensate service m embers for physical
danger.2 Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and m any o ther nearby countries 3 have
been declared imminent d anger z ones. Milita ry personnel s erving in such design ated
areas are eligible for H F/ ID P . To be eligible for t his pay in a given month, a
servicem em ber m ust have s erved s ome time in one of the des ignated z ones, even if only
a d a y or less. The authoriz ing s tatute for HF/ IDP s ets t he rate at $150 per m o n t h .
However, in the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2003,4 Congress
temporarily increased this r ate to $225 per m onth for FY2003, and a continuing
resolution, H.J . Res. 69,5 ex tended t his rate t hrough t he end o f October 2003 . If n o further
action i s t aken by Congress, this statutory authority will ex pire on October 31, 2003.
Family Separation Allow a nce. Family Separation Allowance (FS A) is
authoriz ed by 37 U.S.C. 427, which p rovides a special pay for those s ervice members with
dependents who are separated from t heir families for more than 30 days . The purpose o f
this pay i s t o “partially reimburse, on average, m em b ers of the uniformed services
involunt a ri l y s e parat e d from t hei r dependent s for t h e reas onabl e am ount of ex t ra ex p enses6
that result from s uch s eparation....” To be eligible fo r t h i s allowance, U.S. military
personnel m ust b e s eparated from t heir dependents for 30 continuous days or more; but
once t he 30-day t hreshol d h as been reached, t he al l o wance i s appl i ed ret roact i v el y t o t he
first d ay of separation. The authoriz ing s tatute for FSA sets the rate at $100 per m onth.7
However, in the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2003, Congress
temporarily increased this rate to $250 per month for FY2003, and H.J .Res. 6 9 ex t ended
this rate through t he end o f October 2003. If no further action i s t aken by Congress, this
statutory authority will ex pire on October 31, 2003.
1 DOD regulations make clear a distinction between immi nent danger pay ( IDP) and hostile fire
pay ( HFP) , which is only i mplicit in the statute. IDP is provided to service members serving i n
specifically designated places deemed to pose a t hreat of physical harm or immi nent danger due
to insurrection, war, or terr o r i s m; HFP i s provi ded t o servi ce members i n any location where
members of t he uniformed s e r vi c e s a r e actually exposed to hostile fire or explosion of hostile
mi nes. ID P a nd HFP cannot be collected simultaneously. DOD Financial M anagement
Regulation 7000.14-R, Special Pay — Duty Subject to Hostile Fire or Immi nent Danger, August,
2 Departme nt of Defense, Military Compensation Background Papers,5th edition, 1996, 173.
3 For a partial list of designated areas where military personnel are eligible to receive immi nent
danger pay, see CRS Report RL31334, Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi
Freedom: Questions and Answers About Military Personnel, Compensation and Force Structure ,
4 P.L. 108-11, Section 1316, April 16, 2003.
5 P.L. 108-84, Section 113, September 30, 2003.
6 Departme nt of Defense, Military Compensation Background Papers,5th edition, 1996, 773.
Howeve r, in cases where t he separation i s voluntary, FSA may not be paya ble. For i nstance, if
a s ervi cemember is offered t he choice o f a n accompanied or an unaccompanied t our overseas,
and elects t he latter, then he or she i s not entitled t o FSA. Source: DOD Fi nancial M anagement
Regulation 7000.14-R, Family Separation Allowance (FSA), February, 2002, table 27-4.
7 P.L. 108-11, Section 1316, April 16, 2003.
Ha rds hip Duty Pa y. Hardship Duty Pay (HDP) i s authoriz ed by 37 U.S.C. 305.
It is compensation for the ex ceptional dema n d s o f c e rtain duty, including unusually
demanding m i s s i o n assignments or s ervice in areas with ex trem e climates or austere
facilities. The m ax imum amount of HDP permitted b y t he statute i s currently $300 per8
month, and t he current rate of HDP for Iraq and Afgh anistan i s $100 per m onth. There
is no bar t o receiving HDP in addition t o HF/IDP and FSA.
Recent Legislative Initiati ve s Regarding HF/IDP and FSA
Bo th the S enate and the House h ave i ncluded p rovisions affecting HF/ IDP and FS A
in their respective v e r s i ons of H.R. 1588, the National Defense Authoriz ation Act for
FY2004. The S enate v ersion sets the m onthly rate for HF/IDP at $225 per m onth and the
m o n t h l y rate for FS A at $250 for all service m embers eligible for t hese for m s o f9
compensation, effective October 1 , 2003. The House v ersion, also effective October 1 ,
2003, sets the m onthly rate for HF/IDP at $225 per m onth and the m onthly rate for FS A
at $250, but only for members o f t he uniformed services who s erve “for any p eriod o f
time d u ring a month, in a combat z one designat ed for Operation Iraqi Freedom or10
Enduring Freedom.” Service m embers eligible for HF/ IDP and/or FS A, but not serving
in a combat z one associated with Operation E nduring Freedom (OEF) o r Operation Iraqi
Freedom (OIF), woul d recei ve t h e l ower rat es for t h ese form s of com p ensat i o n current l y
found in permanent l aw. The special rate for HF/ IDP and FS A for those s erving in a n
OEF or OIF combat zone would ex pire on t he date the P resident terminat es the s peci fied
The Department of Defense Appropriations Act for FY200411 did no t c o ntain any
l e gislative l angu age regarding HF/IDP or FS A, but the conference report t hat
accompanied t he bill contained l angu age p roviding $128 million i n funding for
continuation o f t he high er rates o f p ay. T he report l angu age s tated t hat t he $128 million
was “provided for increas es in Family Separation Allowance and Imminent Danger P ay
8 For a partial list of designated areas where military personnel are eligible to receive hardship
duty pay, s ee CRS R e port RL31334, Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi
Freedom: Questions and Answers About Military Personnel, Compensation and Force Structure ,
9 Sections 606 and 619 of H.R. 1588 (as passed by Senate).
10 Section 622 of H.R. 15 8 8 ( a s p assed by House). T he only c ombat zone that has been
designated for Op e r ation Enduring Freedom is Afghanistan and the airspace above it.
T e chnically, no c ombat zone has been declared for Operation Iraqi F r e e dom; t he combat zone
d e s i gn ation t hat currently exists in the Persian Gulf area was designated f or Operation D e s e r t
S h i e l d and Desert Storm (the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War) a nd has never been revoke d. But,
assumi ng that it is this combat zone which i s being referred t o, the higher r ates would be effective
in Iraq,Kuwait,Saudi Arabia,Bahrain,Qatar,UnitedArabEmirates,Oman,the waters of
Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oma n, and t he Arabian Sea north of 10
degr ees north latitude and west of 68 degrees east l ongitude, as well as t he airspace above t hese
11 P.L. 108-87
as authoriz ed by Public Law 108-11.”12 However, P.L. 108-11, as amended b y P .L. 108-
Fi nally, t he current House and Senate versions of the 2004 Emergency S upplemental
Appropriations bill for Iraq and Afgh anistan both contain provisions to ex tend the higher
rates o f HF/ IDP and FS A t hrough S eptember 3 0 , 2 0 04. 13 Additionally, t he committee
report t hat accompanied t he S enate bill specifically rejected the DOD proposal, d iscussed
The Depar t ment of Defense’ s P osi t i on
In J u ly, 2003, the Department of Defense s ent an appeal to Congress opposing t he
HF/IDP and FSA language in both t he House and Senate versions of the National Defense
Authoriz ation Act, on equity and bu d ge t a r y grounds.15 Newspaper accounts o f DOD’s
position generat ed considerable criticism of t he Defense Department. 16 Subsequently, a
news relea s e s e n t o u t by DOD on Augu st 14 seemed to indicate t hat t he Department
approved o f m aintaining the h igher HF/ IDP and FS A r a t e s f o r t hose s erving in
Afghanistan and Iraq17; but a b riefing t h a t s ame d ay by David C hu, Under S ecretary o f
Defense for Personnel and Readiness, indicated that while DOD remained opposed to the
House and Senate provisions, t he Pentagon would ensure t hat total compensation for
those d eployed t o Iraq and Afgh anistan would not drop.18 Dr. C hu ex plained t hat t he
12 H.Rept. 108-283, p. 62.
13 T he Senate provi sions are l ocated in S. 1689, Section 306. T here was no House bill number
at the time of t his writing; the description of its HF/IDP and FSA provisions was based on a press
release from t he House Appropriations Committee entitled “Hi ghlights of t he Chairman’s Mark
of the Iraq Supplemental,” dated October 6, 2003.
14 S.Rept. 108-160, p. 4.
15 T he appeal stated the DOD position as f ollows : “T he Department opposes both t he House and
Senate provisions. T he House provi sion specifies that eligibility depends on assignment to duty
in a particular military operation i nside t he combat zone. T his r estriction would nullify higher
r ates f or personnel s ervi ng in direct support of t hose s ame operations, but outside the c o mb a t
zone, such as Diego Garcia, Israel, etc. Also, specifying an i ncreased rate solely for Operations
IRAQI FREEDOM a n d E NDURING F REEDOM woul d c r e a t e a n i ne qui t y f o r t hos e who
subsequently face immi nent danger or the hardships of family separation i n other contingencies.
T he Senate provi sion would make t he current temporary r ate i ncreases permanent, begi nning in
October 2003, but the Department has not budgeted for t hese increases. T he Departme nt urge s
t h e conferees t o exclude these provi sions.” Departme nt of Defense, Department of Defense
Appeal, FY 2004 Defense Authorization Bill , J uly 9 , 2003, O-33.
16 See f or example, Ar my Ti me s , “ Fair Pay?”, J uly 28, 2003, p. 8, and San Francisco Chronicle ,
“T roops in Ir aq Face Pay Cut; Pentagon Says T ough Duty Bonuses are Budget-Buster,” August
17 Departme nt of Defense News Release #600-03, DOD Statement on Family Separati o n
Allowance and Imminent Danger Pa y , d a t e d A ugust 14, 2003. News release a va ilable a t
18 DOD Ne ws Br i e f i ng wi t h La wr e n c e Di Ri t a a n d Da vi d Chu , Press Gaggle with Mr. Di Rita
and Dr. Chu on Combat Pay Compensation , August 14, 2003. T r anscript available a t
Department had other stat utory authorities, such as Hardship Duty Pay, which could be
used to maintain the t otal compensation o f military personnel i n Afghanistan and Iraq i f
the HF/ IDP and FS A rates reverted back to their earlier rates of $150 and $100 per m onth,
respect i v el y. 19 Subsequently, P resident Bu sh submitted a supplemental appropriations
request to Congress for ongoing operations in Ir a q a n d Afghanistan.20 That request
included p roposed language that would s usta in the HF/ IDP rate at $225 per m onth and the
FS A rate at $250 p e r m onth t hrough December 31, 2003. It also included p roposed
language that would i ncrease t he HDP rate from t he current max imum o f $300 per m onth
to a max imum o f $600 per m onth, begi nning on J anuary 1, 2004. In the written
j u st i fi cat i o n accom p anyi ng t h i s request , DOD ex pl ai ned t hat :
T he estimate a l s o i n cludes f unding for enhanced special pays, including Immi nent
D a n ger pay ( IDP), Family Separation Allowance ( FSA), and Hardship Dut y P a y
(HDP) f or OIF a nd O E F d e p l o ye d p ersonne l i n t heater or in direct operational
support...T he Departme nt intends to ke ep payi n g IDP a nd FSA at these [ FY2003
rates] increased rates t hrough December 31, 2003. Begi nning on J a nuary 1, 2004, the
Department’s plan is to begi n paying an additional $225 per month i n HDP to military21
personnel s ervi ng in OIF/OEF i n a combat zone.
Thou gh t h e l angu age i s a bi t confusi n g as t o t he preci se cri t eri a for recei vi ng t h e
i n creased rat e of HDP , i t appears t hat DOD wants t o provide it to those s er ving in a22
combat z one, o r i n d irect support o f a combat z one, associated with OEF o r OIF.
I m pl i cati ons of the DOD Pr oposal
If implemented, t he DOD proposal would h ave a number o f financial implications
for s ervi ce m em b ers. Fi rst , m any servi ce m em bers who are current l y recei vi ng HF/ IDP
or FS A woul d s ee t h ei r t ot al com p ensat i o n d rop, as t h ey are not servi n g i n a com b at z one
or in direct support o f a combat z one associated with OEF o r OIF. 23 On the o ther hand,
almost all o f t h o s e s e r v i n g in a combat z one, o r i n d irect support o f a combat z one,
20 George W. Bush, Letter t o t he Speaker of the House , dated September 17, 2003.
21 Departme nt of Defense, FY 2004 Supplemental Request For Operation I raqi Freedom (OIF),
Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and Operation Noble Eage (ONE), September, 2003, p. 10.
22 T he f irst sentence quoted refers to personnel i n t heater or in direct operational s upport, while
while the last sentence refers only to personnel s erving in a combat zone, without me ntioning
those s ervi ng in direct support. However, in light of other s tateme nts made by DOD officials,
it appears t hat DOD wants t o provi de increased HDP to ser vi c e members operating i n direct
support of a combat zone. See footnote 10 f or a discussion of combat zones a ssociated with OEF
23 For example, t hose s ervi ng in Bosnia are currently eligible for HF/ IDP and are eligible for FSA
if they have dependents. T hose s ervi ng in South K orea are not currently eligible for HF/IDP but
are usually eligible for FSA if they have d e p e n d e n t s because Korea i s frequently an
“unaccompanied t our” ( in other words, dependents are not authorized to move to t h e d u t y
location a t government e xpense).
associ at ed wi t h OEF o r O IF woul d s ee t h ei r t ot al com p ensat i o n m a i n t a i n e d o r even
i n creased. S peci fi cal l y, t hose current l y recei vi ng bot h H F/ ID P and FS A w oul d s ee t h ei r
compensation from t hese two s ources drop by $225 per m onth, but would receive an
additional $225 in HDP per m onth t o o ffset that decrease. Those military personnel who
have no dependent s, and who t h erefore h ave not been recei vi ng FS A, wo u l d s e e t h ei r
HF/IDP paym e n t d ecrease b y $75 per m onth, but would s ee an increase o f $225 per
month i ncrease i n HDP, a net gain o f $150 per m onth.24
The o nly p eople s erving in a combat z one, o r i n d irect support o f a combat z one,
a s sociated with OEF o r OIF who would s uffer an s light adverse financial impact unde r
the DOD proposal would b e a relatively s mall group of officers who are both receiving
FS A and have relativel y high l evel s o f t o t al co m pensation. This is due to the t ax
implications of reducing compensation via an allowance (FS A) and replaci ng it with a pay
(HDP ), because al l o wances are not subj ect t o federal i ncom e t ax , whi l e t h e v ari ous t ypes
of pay25 are. Al l s ervi ce m em b ers i n Iraq and Afgh ani s t an are servi n g i n a com b at z one
and are therefore eligible for t he “combat z one tax ex clusion,”26 but this exclusion is
l imited for some military officers. For enlisted p ersonnel and warrant officer s , a l l
compensation for active military service i n a combat zone is free of federal income tax . 27
For commissioned officers, compensation i s free of f ed eral income tax up t o t he
max imum amount of enlisted b asic pay p lus any imminent d anger p ay received: j u s t
under $6,000 per m onth at current pay rates.28 Thi s m eans t hat for t h e t yp i cal offi cer i n
paygrade O-5 (Li eutenant Colonel o r C omma n d er) o r above, and for l ower ranking
officers who receive a l arge amount of incentive o r s pecialty pay,29 replacing FS A with
HDP means replacing non-tax able compensation with tax able compensation.
24 T he DOD j ustification argues t hat t his i ncreas e i n pay for s ervi ce me mbers without dependents
is a f airer way of compensating OEF and OIF participants, noting t hat “T he additional $225 per
month being paid to members i n combat s hould be i n r ecognition of t he risk that they all f ace —
not drawing any distinction as t o t heir ma r i t a l s tatus or number of f amily dependents.”
D e partme nt of Defense, FY 2004 Supplemental Request For Operation I raqi Freedom (O I F ),
Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and Operation Noble Eage (ONE), September 2003, p. 10.
25 For e x a mp l e, Basic Pay, Hardship Duty Pay, Hostile Fi re/Immi nent Danger Pay, etc. There
a r e s e ve r al dozen distinct types of pay in the military compensation system, although many of
them are t argeted at comparatively s mall sub-populations of the armed forces (for example, only
certain aviators ca n qualify f or aviation career incentive pay and only pharmacy officers can
qualify f or pharmacy officer pay) .
26 26 U.S.C. 112.
27 W h ile this combat zone tax-exclusion benefit applies only t o f ederal income tax, almost all
states ha ve p r o vi s i o n s extending the benefit to their state income tax as well. Department of
De f e ns e , Military Compensation Background Papers, 5th Edition, September 1996, 832-837.
28 According t o t he Internal Reve nue Service, “For 2002, the most a n officer could earn t ax-free
each month was $5,532.90 ($5,382.90, the highest monthly enlisted pay, plus $150 hostile fire
or immi nent danger pay) . T he Emerge ncy Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003
(P.L. 108-11) raised the i mmi nent dange r pay t o $225 per month t hrough September 2003.
T herefore, the 2003 combat pay e xclusion for office rs is $5,957.70 per month t hrough September,
and $5,882.70 per month f or the r emain der of the year.” More information on t his t opic i s
avai l a bl e a t [ ht t p : / / www.i r s.go v/ newsr oom/ a r t i c l e / 0,,i d=101262,00.ht ml ] .
29 For example, medical officers and pilots often r eceive comparatively l arge amounts of special
or incentive pay in addition t o t heir base pay.