The Pentagon recently announced that the Army's 3rd Infantry Division would be staying in Iraq indefinitely. Are these soldiers entitled to hazard pay? What are the rules governing such monetary perks?
Troops on the ground in Iraq may not be thrilled with the prospect of spending more time there, but they can take some solace in raking in an extra $500 to $600 a month, thanks to several different salary supplements.
Since the Pentagon has designated Iraq a combat zone, where death and dismemberment are ever-present threats, soldiers are eligible for a bonus known as hostile fire pay/ imminent danger pay. When the latest Gulf War began, HFP/IDP amounted to $150 per month. However, an April spending bill bumped up the payments by $75, to $225 per month. The raise is scheduled to vanish in October, however, unless Congress acts to make it permanent.
The April bill also increased the family separation allowance from $100 per month to $250. Soldiers with dependents are eligible for the FSA after they've been away from their loved ones for 30 days. Troops preparing for overseas deployments sometimes get hitched right before they leave, so they and their lovers can take advantage of the benefit.
On top of that, there's hardship duty pay, commonly referred to as "save pay." The Pentagon has classified Iraq as a hardship area, meaning that a soldier's life there is deemed particularly arduous, whether or not he's being shot at. The maximum hardship payment is $150 per month, but soldiers deployed in Iraq typically receive just $100—the rationale being that HFP/IDP makes up for the shortfall. Other hardship areas include Chad, South Korea, and Sri Lanka.
Money earned in a combat zone is exempt from federal income tax, though recipients must still pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Soldiers deployed in certain hot spots—Iraq included—are also permitted to stash away up to $10,000 in a special military savings account, which guarantees a return of at least 10 percent per year. Lastly, troops in Iraq are given a $3.50 per diem for incidental expenses, like toiletries or snacks.
It's not really accurate to refer to any of these payments as "hazard pay," which has a specific definition in military lingo. Formally known as hazardous duty incentive pay, this bonus is handed out to specialists who take on the riskiest of tasks. Among those eligible for an extra $150 per month are demolition experts, troops who handle toxic fuels, and those who man the flight decks on aircraft carriers.