Editor, Shawnna Chee ✉
How Does Military Psychologist Pay Stack Up Against Civilian Pay?
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): PRETTY DARN GOOD!
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): PRETTY DARN GOOD!
Over the past couple of decades the military has seen regular annual pay raises, designed to close a general military-civilian wage gap. Consequently, this has improved the salaries of all military officers. Currently (CY 2019) a first year psychologist or psychology intern makes $51,012 annually in basic pay (for the military pay charts, go here; as a reminder, first year psychologists are O3s). On top of basic pay, all service members receive both a food allowance (Basic Allowance for Subsistence or BAS) and a housing allowance (Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH). BAS is the same for all officers, specifically $3,053 annually, and BAH varies depending on rank, geographic location (i.e., cost of living) and whether or not that psychologist has dependents (for specific BAH rates for specific locations, go to this calculator). As two examples: a first year psychologist or intern going to San Diego, CA will receive $34,656 BAH if they have no dependents (so $88,721 total annual income) or $37,548 if they have dependents (e.g., spouse, child; $91,613 annual income). That same psychologist or intern in Portsmouth, VA would receive $20,952 BAH if they have no dependents ($75,017 annual earnings) and $23,688 with dependents ($77,753 annually). It is notable that neither BAS nor BAH is taxed.
Wait, Wait, But That’s Not All
In addition to the regular salary afforded to all military officers, psychologists can earn a number of special pays. In 2009 given increased demands for military psychologists, a number of special pays and bonuses for clinical psychologists were implemented. Board certification pay was increased to 6K annually. All licensed psychologists (sorry – interns are not eligible for special pays) started receiving a 5K incentive pay annually. Retention bonuses now range from 10K annually (for a 2-year commitment) to 35K annually (for a 6-year commitment). Thus, a first year psychologist, who comes in with a license, is stationed in San Diego, CA and commits to 6 years in the military will make $126,021 annually, with almost 40K of that not taxed.
No, Seriously, There’s More
In addition to decent basic pay and special pay, raises are given routinely. Psychologists are guaranteed a raise at 2 years ($6,816 annual raise in 2019), 3 years, 4 years and then every 2 years after that. With every promotion comes another raise and a corresponding raise in BAH. Thus, a psychologist with dependents who is stationed in, let’s say, Chicago, IL who has been in for 8 years and has earned the rank of O4 (that’s a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy or a Major in the Air Force or Army), makes $81,264 in basic pay, $3,053 in BAS, and $34,668 in BAH. That’s a total of $118,985 which does not include incentive pay (add 5K), board certification pay (add 6K) and retention bonuses (add 10K, 15K, 20K or 35K annually depending on the commitment). So yes – that psychologist could be making $164,985 with only 8 years of experience.
Why Yes, I’m Glad You Asked.
Have I mentioned that military psychologists (all military officers) get free health care for both themselves and their families, funded moves for every duty station change, 30 days of paid leave annually, access to the commissary (groceries cost an average of 30% less than in standard grocery stores), a retirement pension, and can participate in the Thrift Savings Plan which provides a match? Ten years of military service also qualifies people for student loan forgiveness and a number of states have tax breaks for real estate, personal property and/or income.
So, how does the military stack up against civilian pay for clinical psychologists?
A completely nonsystematic Google search revealed that interns are currently receiving about 30K for an annual stipend. So, that’s easy math – even in a low cost of living area – military interns are making at least 45K more than the average civilian psychology intern.
For licensed psychologists, according to Lin, Christidis and Stamm (2017), psychologists in professional service positions had a median salary of $85,000 (the data used were from 2015, so direct comparisons cannot be precisely made between the 2019 military and 2015 civilian salaries). The range was from 60K to 120K (highest earners were self-employed in non-incorporated businesses). So – are military psychologists doing okay compared to civilians?
Simply put, junior (early career) psychologists in the military, who sign up for a retention bonus start earning on the high side of the civilian range in their first year. Military salary rapidly outpaces average civilian salaries, not including the significant tax breaks and other benefits. Some other interesting findings from that salary study: Psy.D.s made 10K less annually than Ph.D.s; women made 11K less than men; and members of ethnic/racial minority groups made 17K less than whites. In the military, we all make the same; there is no such thing as a salary negotiation; and our salaries are the most transparent of any organization (see the links previously provided in this article).
So, if you are flexible, you like staying in good physical shape, getting to live in multiple locales both within the U.S. and overseas sounds exciting and you think working with service members is the best thing there is… the military outshines the civilian remuneration of most psychologists by a lot.
If you have questions about life as a military psychologist or salary questions, recommend that you ask your question on the APA Division 19 – Military Psychology Facebook page. You will get answers from all branches of Service. Or, you can email the following points of contact:
Lin, L., Christidis, P., & Stamm, K. (2017). American Psychological Association Center for Workforce Studies, 2015 Salaries in Psychology. Retrieved on 9 May 2019