Leave & Earnings Statement (LES)
You can learn a lot from a Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), including the servicemember's pay grade, years of service, and gross pay. But what do those numbers really mean? A servicemember's gross monthly pay primarily consists of:
- Basic Pay, which varies depending upon the servicemember's pay grade and years of service (military pay tables). Looking at the LES is sufficient in almost all cases, but for those interested in the complete details as to how basic pay is determined, see the DOD Financial Management Regulation, Chapter 1.
- Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). Servicemembers receive BAH unless they reside in military housing or the barracks. The amount varies, depending upon pay grade, dependent status, and home station zip code. BAH calculator, or the see the Joint Federal Travel Regulation, Chapter 10 for complete regulations governing the Basic Allowance for Housing.
- Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). servicemembers without meal cards receive BAS, which in 2012 is $239.96 per month for officers, and $348.44 per month for enlisted (the current amount is on page 3 of the military pay table, and the complete rules are in the DOD Financial Management Regulation, Chapter 25).
Special Pays & Allowances
For many servicemembers stationed CONUS (in the Continental United States), these are the only pay and allowances received. However, servicemembers on jump status, in special forces, or those receiving professional pay (e.g. doctors) receive additional allowances, and doctors in particular may receive annual bonuses. Additionally, servicemembers who reenlist may also receive a reenlistment bonus. There are also sea pay, submarine pay, clothing allowances, etc.
The military pay table has an itemization of the various pays and allowances servicemembers may receive, but trying to outline who receives what under all circumstances would be nearly impossible. These are listed in the military pay table, and braver souls can review the DOD Financial Management Regulation, Volume 7A, Military Pay Policy & Procedures - Active Duty & Reserve Pay, which is the definitive word on the subject, and is particularly useful if someone claims they won't be receiving a specific allowance in the future. However, for most people reviewing the Leave & Earnings Statement, W-2s, and if a doctor, W-2s and other documents which reflect bonuses received in addition to monthly pays should be sufficient, and is a lot easier.
Overseas Military Pay & Allowances
Servicemembers stationed OCONUS (Outside the Continental United States) typically receive other allowances. The more common of these are:
- Overseas COLA (COLA rate query & information), which depends upon rank, years of service, number of dependents, and location. The amount received fluctuates monthly as currency values change.
- Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) (OHA rate query & information).
- Per Diem (Per diem rate query) may be available, particular if the servicemember is on a deployment.
- Hardship Duty Pay, particularly if the servicemember is deployed. This is typically between $50 and $150, depending upon location. See the DOD Financial Management Regulation, Chapter 17, for rules and a chart of pay by location.
Military Pay During Deployments
Servicemembers who are deployed receive the same pay & allowances as in garrison, even if, e.g., they have no rent or mortgage to pay. Additionally, the four primary additional pays deployed servicemembers receive are:
- Hostile Fire Pay, which in 2012 is $225 per month. See the military pay table.
- Family Separation Allowance of $250 per month, once away from the family for more than 30 days. The dollar amount, which has been the same since 2002, is on the military pay table, and the specific entitlement rules are in the DOD Financial Management Regulation, Chapter 27.
- Hardship Duty Pay, which is $100 per month in Iraq or Afghanistan.
- Per Diem. The Standard On-Base Incidental Rate is $3.50 per day worldwide.
Combat Zone Tax Exclusion. If a servicemember spends any part of a month in a combat zone, all pay & allowances that months are tax-free. See the DOD Financial Management Regulation, Chapter 44 for more details. While this increases the net pay available to the servicemember, since Colorado bases its child support calculations off gross pay, the tax-free status has no effect on Colorado child support.
Colorado Treatment of Military Pay & Allowances
For purposes of calculating child support and maintenance, Colorado divorce courts use a very broad definition of "gross income." In a nutshell, C.R.S. 14-10-115(5) includes every dollar the servicemember receives reflected on the LES, including the non-taxable allowances.
Moreover, Colorado family law courts also impute income to a servicemember who receives lodging or food in lieu of BAH or BAS. In re: Marriage of Long, 921 P.2d 67 (Colo. 1996), the Colorado Supreme Court decided that a servicemember who lives in military housing pays child support and maintenance as if he/she were actually receiving BAH!
The reason? Military housing is considered an "in-kind payment," much like a company car provided by a private-sector employer. One may be able to argue for a common-sense exception, however. For example, a servicemember living in a Quonset hut may be able to convince the trial judge that it is not the financial equivalent of proper family housing or the full BAH at the with-dependents rate.
Despite the clear holding of the Long case, a child support obligor in a subsequent case tried to argue that BAH & BAS should not count as the obligor's income, but instead should be treated as a payment which reduced the child's needs, and therefore result in a much greater reduction in the obligor's child support.
The Colorado Court of Appeals rejected that effort, holding: "The housing and food allowances are intended to reimburse Young for her housing and food expenses, and thus, as Peabody admits, reduce Young’s personal living expenses. Accordingly, the allowances are part of Young’s gross income under the plain language of section 14-10-115(5)(a)(I)(X)." In re Parental Responsibilities of L.K.Y., 2013 COA 108, ¶9.
DFAS Home Page. Comprehensive information, and links to military pay charts, BAH calculator, COLA tables, etc.