Alaska Public Media: ‘Arctic pay’ among the perks Congress is sending to improve military assignments in Alaska

Members of the military stationed in Alaska are in line for some extra financial benefits in 2023.

Bills that Congress passed this month include special “Arctic pay” for troops who are based in Alaska and perform critical work in cold weather. The change could add a few hundred dollars a month to a service member’s paycheck.

The special duty pay for service in cold weather is one of several incentives Congress approved to boost morale for Alaska troops. And, with more than 20,000 active duty service members in the state, the economic impact won’t be limited to military installations.

Improving the quality of life in the military is especially important in light of the high incidence of suicide, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.

“One of the things that we know happens when it comes to mental health is when people are stressed financially, it compounds other problems that are going on,” she said.

In 2021, 17 Alaska-based soldiers died of suicide, from a population of about 11,000. Congress has pressed military leaders to provide more mental health services in Alaska, and Murkowski said that effort continues in the final bills of the year. One component in the annual defense bill gives behavioral health counselors annual bonuses of up to $50,000.

Military families already get higher housing and cost-of-living allowances to live in Alaska, but Murkowski said she learned in meetings with service members that those payments don’t cover all the extra expenses service members incur when they transfer to Alaska — things likes snow tires, warm coats and travel to see relatives out of state. The defense bill, she noted, includes a travel reimbursement for Alaska-based service members to take a personal trip home.

“This is something that I feel pretty proud about, because it really was led by those who we’ve really tried to listen very carefully to,” she said after the bill passed the Senate.

The Alaska basic housing allowance is going up next year, and salaries for all service members will increase 4.6%. The salary increase is the largest in years but still might not be adequate to keep up with inflation.

By:  Liz Ruskin
Source: Alaska Public Media