Special and Incentive Pay

Written by: Maureen Milliken

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Everyone in the military gets basic pay that is determined by their rank and length of service. But there are plenty of opportunities to make extra money.

Military members of all ranks and positions can be eligible for special and incentive pay (S&I). There are more than 60 authorized Special and Incentive Pay codes.

S&I covers everything from hazardous duty pay, dangerous jobs, those with more responsibility, tours in combat zones, working with hazardous materials and more. But it also offers incentives to acquire training or learn a new job, or, if you’re in a profession that’s lucrative in the civilian world, to stay in the military for a few years or for a career.

Specific skills – like fluency in a foreign language – can open up special military pay opportunities.

Congress sets maximum amounts for S&I. In 2008, it established broader categories, which allow the military flexibility to adjust payment levels and eligibility criteria.

Who Is Eligible for Special and Incentive Pay?

Special and Incentive Pay opportunities are open to active-duty enlisted military members, even those who have just joined, as well as officers. Some S&I codes are exclusive to certain branches of the military or have varying requirements, depending on the branch.

There is pay specific to medical professions, being on a combat tour, being assigned to a less-than-desirable area and more. Dangerous jobs, like parachuting, diving or working on a submarine also get special pay.

All of the specific codes under the law that allows Special Pay and Incentives have their own eligibility requirements.

What Types of Special and Incentive Pay Are Available?

Special and Incentive Pay is monthly, and ranges from skilled jobs – such as Medical Special Pay – to assignments that increase skill or proficiency, to special pay for hazardous or arduous work. There is also pay for jobs that are difficult to fill – nurses, dentists, optometrists, veterinarians – as well as pay designed to retain personnel.

Hazardous duty pay helps ensure the U.S. interests abroad and at home are protected, by giving special incentives to those who must serve in combat zones or do jobs that could be dangerous.

Some pay is for long-term duties, some is temporary. Some is offered only by certain branches of the service. Each type has its own pay grades and requirements, which are all listed in the U.S. Department of Defense Special Pays and Incentives Index.

The general categories are:

  • Hazardous Incentive Pay
  • Medical Special Pay
  • Retention Incentive Pay
  • Career Incentive Pay
  • Assignment Pay
  • Accession Pay
  • Responsibility Pay
  • Skill Conversion and Transfer Pay
  • Arduous Duty Pay
  • Proficiency Incentive
  • Rehabilitation Pay

Let’s take a closer look.

Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay (HDIP)

There are many voluntary HDIP assignments. Some have a pay cap, some a flat amount and some have a range based on grade, assignment and more.

Top HDIP pay:

  • Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger: $225
  • Flying, Crew: $110-$250 (grade-based)
  • Parachute: $150, high-altitude $250

$150 flat pay duties:

  • Flying, Non-Crew
  • Pressure Chamber; Acceleration, Deceleration; Thermal Stress
  • Flight Deck
  • Toxic Pesticides/Dangerous Organisms Personal Exposure
  • Toxic Fuel/Propellants, Chemical Munitions Exposure
  • Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) – Maritime Interdiction Operations (Navy only)

Medical Special Pay

Medical special pay helps retain medical personnel who could easily make more money as civilians – it covers regular special pay, special pay for becoming certified, retention bonuses and more:

  • Multi-year Medical Officer Retention Bonus: Up to $75,000 yearly, four-year agreement
  • Multi-year Dental Officer Retention Bonus: Up to $50,000, four-year agreement
  • Medical Officer Variable: $1,200-$12,000 yearly
  • Medical Officer Additional: $15,000
  • Medical Officers Board Certification: $2,500-$6,000 yearly
  • Medical Officer Incentive: $75,000, 12-month agreement
  • Optometrists Regular: $100 a month
  • Optometrists Retention: Up to $!5,000, 12-month agreement
  • Dental Officer Variable: $3,000-$12,000 yearly
  • Dental Officer Additional: $10,000-$15,000 yearly
  • Dental Officer Board Certification: $2,500-$6,000 yearly
  • Dental Officer Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Incentive: up to $75,000, 12-month agreement
  • Nonphysician Health Care Providers Board Certification: $2,000-$5,000 yearly
  • Registered Nurse Accession Bonus: Up to $30,000, minimum three-year agreement
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Incentive: Up to $50,000, 12-month agreement
  • Dental Officer Accession Bonus: Up to $200,000, minimum four-year agreement
  • Pharmacy Officer Retention: Up to $15,000 for 12 months
  • Pharmacy Officer Accession Bonus: Up to $30,000, four-year minimum agreement
  • Accession Bonus for Medical/Dental Officers in Critically Short Wartime Specialties: Up to $400,000
  • Veterinary Corps Officer: $100 monthly
  • Veterinary Corps Officer Board Certified: $2,000-$5,000 yearly

Retention Incentive Pay

Retention Incentive Pay aims to keep service members with in-demand skills in the military. Figures listed here are a maximum, and amount depends on many factors:

  • Aviation Continuation: $25,000 yearly
  • Selective Reenlistment Bonus: $40,000
  • Nuclear Officers Extending Period of Active Duty: $30,000 yearly, minimum 3-year agreement
  • Nuclear Career Annual Incentive Bonus: $22,000 (commissioned officers), $14,000 (limited duty officers)
  • Special Warfare Officer Continuation: $15,000 yearly
  • Surface Warfare Officer Continuation: $50,000 yearly
  • Judge Advocate Continuation: $60,000 paid over career
  • Critical Skills Retention (Assignment to High Priority Unit) Bonus: $60,000

Career Incentive Pay

Career Incentive Pay seeks to keep skilled personnel in crucial jobs in the service for their entire career. There’s a wide range in the monthly pay for each, depending on years of service, grade and more.

Pay codes are:

  • Aviation: $125-$850
  • Submarine Duty: $75-$835
  • Diving Duty: $340 (max. enlisted); $240 (max. officers)
  • Career Sea: $50-$150
  • Career Enlisted Flyer Incentive: $150-$400

Assignment Incentive Pay

Assignment Incentive Pay encourages those in less desirable locations or in combat zones to extend their tour.

Involuntary extensions in combat zones pay up to $800 monthly. Voluntary extensions range from $300-$900 a month. Those with critical intelligence skills get up to $1,000 a month. The maximum allowed by law is $3,000 a month.

Accession Pay

Accession bonuses and incentives are designed to encourage military personnel, or those enlisting, to become officers.

  • Enlistment Bonus – $40,00 maximum
  • Nuclear Officer Accession Bonus – $30,000 maximum
  • Accession Bonus for New Officers in Critical Skills – $60,000 maximum
  • Accession Bonus for Members Appointed as a Commissioned Officer after Completing Officer Candidate School – $20,000 maximum

Responsibility Pay

  • Officers Holding Positions of Unusual Responsibility – The Navy rewards sea service at $50-$750 a month. Other military branches may set rates as well.
  • Special Duty Assignment Pay for Enlisted Members – Assignments with responsibility above pay grade, including special operations forces, production recruiter, White House Communications Agency, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and more, get $75-$450 monthly.

Skills Conversion and Transfer Pay

  • Incentive Bonus for Conversion to Military Occupational Specialty to Ease Personnel Shortage – For members who convert to an occupational specialty that has a shortage of qualified personnel, with minimum 3-year commitment. Rate is discretionary.
  • Incentive Bonus for Transfer Between Armed Forces – Up to $10,000 to transfer between military branches, with minimum 3-year commitment.

Arduous Duty Pay

Hardship Pay-Quality of Life and Hardship Pay-Location is for those whose assignment is where living conditions are substantially below the standard most members would generally experience in the U.S. Pay is $50-$150 monthly.

Hardship Pay-Mission is for those who recover the remains of service members lost in past wars, and is $150.

Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Program (OTEIP)

The Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Program (OTEIP) rewards personnel for extending an overseas assignment. If your duty station or job field qualifies you for OTEIP, you can receive additional pay or benefits for agreeing to extend an overseas assignment by at least 12 months.

Proficiency Incentive Pay

Being fluent in a foreign language – or doing the work to be – pays off big time for members of the military through the Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus. Those who become proficient, or work to increase proficiency, can get up to $12,000 for a 12-month certification period.

Rehabilitation Pay

Members of the armed forces injured in the line of duty in a combat zone who have to be evacuated for medical treatment get $430 a month. It terminates when they start getting benefits from other military disability programs, or if they are no longer being treated for the injury.

Can Special and Incentive Pay Change?

Special and Incentive Pay amounts, as well as categories, change frequently. Congress used to be in charge of changing the requirements, eligibility, pay grades and more, but that got unwieldy. Now, the basic framework is there, and Congress votes on it every two years year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the military. It is up to the secretary of each branch of the military to set specifics and decide if the special pay will be offered.

Some special pay and incentives have ceilings way above what is currently being paid, so there’s room to increase it. For instance, Special Duty Assignment Pay can be as high as $600 a month under the law, but currently pays between $75 and $450. Navy submarine pay can go as high as $1,000 a month, but is capped at $950 (and that’s only for two pay grades with at least 18 years’ experience).

Changes in the location of combat can mean changes to Assignment Pay Incentive and Hardship Pay Incentive. That goes for Hostile Fire and Imminent Danger Pay as well – the U.S. Department of Defense keeps an up-to-date list of where this pay applies.

Some categories – for instance regular pay incentive for optometrists, at $100 a month – haven’t changed since they were instituted.

Changes generally kick in on Jan. 1.

About The Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has been writing about finance, banking, investment, entrepreneurship, real estate and other related topics for more than 30 years. She started as the “Business Beat” columnist for the now-defunct Haverhill (Mass.) Gazette and currently is one of the hosts of the Mainebiz business-focused podcast, “The Day that Changed Everything” in addition to her daily writing. She also is is the author of three mystery novels and two nonfiction books.


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