- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2021

While Uncle Sam will foot the bill for your uniform when you join the military, it turns out that the individual sailor, soldier and Marine often has to pay for upgrades and updates through the years out of his or her pocket.

Now it turns out that the hit to her pocket is a lot more painful than the hit to his.

A just-released congressionally mandated study from the Government Accountability Office finds women across the military face a “pink tax” — higher bills for essential uniform items from pantyhose and dress shoes to mandatory handbags — than do their male counterparts, a burden especially heavy for female officers. The report also found that women in the military have out-of-pocket costs for uniforms at least twice as much as their male counterparts and in some cases much more over the course of their service.

Depending on the service branch, the total cost of required military uniforms for troops just entering the service can range from $1,600 to $2,400. New officers reporting for active duty receive about $400 for their uniforms but do not get any allowances later on.

A female enlisted Marine will pay nearly 10 times more than her male counterpart in out-of-pocket uniform expenses over a 20-year career. Female soldiers will kick in for almost $4,000, double what male soldiers will have to pay while women in the Navy have paid up to three times as much.

Some male Air Force enlisted personnel have been able to pocket about $2,000 during their 20-year career while their female counterparts will pay about $1,600 in out-of-pocket uniform expenses, the report stated.

“I have worked to address gender disparities in uniform costs as part of my work to bring gender equity to the [Department of Defense] and [the Department of Veterans Affairs],” said Rep. Julia Brownley, the California Democrat who sponsored the amendment in a recent  Pentagon budget bill calling for the study.

The GAO investigation also found that out-of-pocket costs for enlisted women can add up to $8,000 or more during a career, while some male personnel have even been able to pocket part of their uniform allowance. Also, enlisted women were reimbursed for uniform items at a rate of about 8% lower than male service members.

The military services also differ on what items they consider “uniquely military” and eligible for inclusion in the clothing allowance fund and what items wouldn’t be covered.

Once they go through basic training and receive their initial supply of uniform items, women in the Army must pay for handbags — a required item — while women in the Air Force or Marine Corps must pay for dress pumps. The study found that such replacement costs fall disproportionately on women.

“The costs for items such as bras, underwear and hosiery for females are higher than underwear for males,” the report noted.

All the services have made changes to their uniforms over the past 10 years, while the Navy and Marine Corps have ordered changes affecting only women. The Marines found they could save a great deal of money by switching over to a gender-neutral uniform. But the cost was transferred to women in the Marine Corps, who were then forced to go buy those uniform items out of pocket, the study found.

“This report shows that both enlisted women and female officers are required to spend many times more than men on the uniform, which is at odds with the Department of Defense’s principle of equal pay for equal work,” said Ms. Brownley, chair of the Women Veterans Task Force.

The GAO analysts recommended that the Pentagon should develop “consistent criteria” for determining which clothing items are considered “uniquely military” across the services, and periodically review the list for any needed changes.

“I applaud the [Department of Defense] for accepting the GAO’s recommendations,” Ms. Brownley said, adding she would work with new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to “ ensure further equity for America’s servicewomen.”

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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