If you're a newlywed or a new parent, or if you just haven't checked your personnel records in a while, the Army needs you to take action now or risk taking a hit to your wallet.
About 140,000 soldiers are missing the proper documentation to prove they are eligible for Basic Allowance for Housing at the higher with-dependent rate.
"It's starting to become an issue," said JD Riley, deputy chief of compensation and entitlements in the Army G-1 (personnel). "Our concern is there's going to come a point where if we can't support the payments, we have to turn off the payments. That's what we don't want to do."
If soldier records aren't properly updated, they could revert back to the lower BAH rate instead of the higher with-dependent rate, Riley said. That could mean a loss of hundreds of dollars a month.
For example, a sergeant with dependents who is stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, receives $1,236 a month in BAH, compared with $1,053 without dependents, according to the Defense Department's BAH calculator.
A captain with dependents at Fort Bragg receives $1,488 compared with $1,344 without.
A sergeant with dependents at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, receives $1,635 a month in BAH, compared with $1,281 for a single soldier.
A JBLM-based captain with dependents receives $1,941 in BAH a month, compared with $1,701 for one without dependents.
If you are not sure if your paperwork is in order, here's what you must do:
Check your leave and earnings statement against iPERMS, or the Personnel Electronic Records Management System, then go see your human resources specialist.
In many cases, the required paperwork could be as simple as a marriage license or a divorce decree or a birth certificate, Riley said.
The problem isn’t just BAH.
The Army has been trying for the last three years, following a scathing audit by the Government Accountability Office, to make sure all soldiers’ financial documents are up-to-date.
"We’ve got to be able to prove that every soldier is entitled to all payments they receive," Riley said. "From base pay to his subsistence allowances to his housing allowances, everything has to be supported by a document."
The 2012 GAO audit found "a lot" of documents were missing from soldier records, and Army officials were forced to testify on Capitol Hill about the audit’s findings.
And the issue isn’t specific to the Army, said Larry Lock, chief of compensation and entitlements in the G-1.
"All the services have a very similar problem," he said. "That’s what’s brought us to where we are today. We’ve been at this for three years, and we haven’t been getting the positive response from the field that we need."
In 2013, to try to fix the problem, then-Army Secretary John McHugh signed a memorandum directing Army personnel specialists to get soldier records into iPERMS and conduct annual records reviews, Riley said.
This required soldiers to meet once a year with a human resources specialist to go over their records and make sure all of their documentation is in order, Riley said.
"We have an entire key supporting document matrix available to the HR specialist, so if a soldier’s receiving hazardous duty incentive pay or jump pay, they look at this list, and they’ll be able to tell if he needs a set of orders," he said.
The reviews are taking place across the Army, Riley said, but the Army is still struggling to get the proper documents in the system.
"There could be several reasons for that, so we must put more emphasis on this issue and make sure soldiers understand if they don’t provide the documents, we may be required by law to stop the payments because it’s an improper payment," he said.
The Army is calling on all soldiers to update their financial records to ensure they receive the proper pays and benefits they deserve. This includes Basic Allowance for Housing, which can change based on whether a soldier has dependents.
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BAH isn’t the only area where the Army is seeking proper documentation from soldiers.
For example, Riley said he recently reviewed 412 records for Assignment Incentive Pay. He had to shut off payments to 343 soldiers who were receiving AIP because they didn’t have the proper paperwork.
"We may be focusing on BAH initially, but if they’re receiving a pay, whatever it is, their record has to have a document in there to support that payment," Riley said.
The Army is emphasizing BAH to start because it’s such a high-value item in the Army budget, Riley said.
"BAH has the largest material value" overall," he said. "We’re talking billions of dollars."
Soldiers who don’t update their files could risk losing money every month – or they could end up owing the Army money if they’re overpaid.
"We get two or three cases a week of soldiers who are $50,000 or more in debt" because they were improperly being paid more than they should have been, Riley said.
"We want the service member to respond because they’re entitled to get what the law requires them to get," Lock said. "We’re interested in soldiers getting paid properly."
Making sure soldiers are properly paid also enhances their readiness, Lock said.
"If a member is distracted by financial matters, then they’re not as focused as they need to be on the mission," he said. "We want to make sure that we look out for soldiers and their families."
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.