In the next few weeks, service members will get a chance to help shape their overseas cost of living allowance payments.
In October 2015, the Department of Defense will ask members stationed in Germany to participate in a living pattern survey, which captures where and how non-housing goods and services are purchased, a factor that directly affects COLA received by members.
“Every member receiving COLA should set aside a few moments to participate in this survey. Your feedback is crucial to accurately represent the cost of living in Germany. You have a vested interest in this survey’s success,” said Capt. Eric Hulshizer, the Locality Allowance coordinator for Ramstein.
The survey will be opened only during October and will be managed through the Defense Travel Management Office.
Overseas COLA is a non-taxable, supplemental pay allowance designed to offset the prices on non-housing goods and services. It is intended to equalize purchasing power so that members can purchase the same level of goods and services overseas as they could if they were stationed in the Continental United States.
COLA is calculated by comparing the prices of goods and services overseas with average prices for equivalent goods and services in the CONUS. If the costs are higher in an overseas location, then members will receive a COLA.
Members can calculate their COLA payment at www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/colaCalc.cfm.
Service members and commands play a critical role by participating in the survey. Members are asked to report on which local stores they shop in and what percentage of purchases are made at local market outlets, commissaries, exchanges, mail order or internet purchases and purchased in the U.S. for use overseas.
This information will tell analysts how members use the local economy, as well as where prices should be collected for the comparison against the same products and services in the U.S. This and other data determines the COLA index and directly impacts the payments service members receive.
While a location’s COLA index is reviewed each year, the survey is only conducted every three years. Because of this three-year cycle, commands are stressing the importance of completing the survey.
“This is a prime opportunity for members to have a direct impact on the amount of COLA they receive,” said Randall Ries, the Germany Country Allowance coordinator.
The electronic survey takes just 30 to 45 minutes to complete and should be completed by the service member or spouse who has knowledge of household spending patterns. In completing the survey, service members should ensure that answers reflect actual shopping patterns.
For more information on the survey, members can contact the 86th Comptroller Squadron Financial Analysis Flight at 480-4791 or 06371-47-4791 or the U.S. Army Europe G1 Military Pay section at 537-1073/1071 or 0611-143-537-1073/1071.