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Military fighting Ebola deserve higher pay, Minnesota lawmakers say

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Two members of Congress from Minnesota say the 700 Minnesota National Guard soldiers being sent to West Africa next spring to help with the fight against the deadly Ebola virus should receive more than $5 a day extra in hardship duty pay.

Reps. Keith Ellison and Collin Peterson, both Democrats, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Friday urging him to increase the amount of hardship pay those soldiers will receive during their deployment, due to the challenges they will face in Liberia, the Associated Press reports.

The letter says the "arduous conditions" in Liberia qualify the Guard soldiers for extra hardship pay, which is typically implemented for military personnel who are sent to a difficult location or assigned to a particularly dangerous or difficult task.

"Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices every day in West Africa for the greater good and must be recognized. The conditions on the ground are difficult and our military personnel deserve more than an additional $5.00 a day in hardship pay," the letter said.

 "As [Liberia] struggles to recover from 14 years of civil war, electricity, water, health care and other critical infrastructure are lacking. Providing training and equipment in Ebola hot zones and building infrastructure in remote areas during the rainy season carry manageable but high-stakes risks. Moreover, the necessary personal protective equipment make work so difficult that health care workers and lab technicians can only work for short periods of time before risking heat stroke and dehydration." 

The letter was also signed by lawmakers who represent other states with Guard contingents going to West Africa, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Massachusetts, Texas, California, Pennsylvania and New York.

The current monthly rate for hardship duty pay in Liberia is $150, according to the Defense Department. The Secretary of Defense has discretion to increase hardship duty pay to up to $1,500 per month, the letter points out.

The Minnesota soldiers are members of the Rosemount-based 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, and will be deployed for about six months beginning in April, according to a news release from the Minnesota National Guard.

The soldiers will not be directly involved with treatment of Ebola patients, but will “synchronize the operations, logistics, personnel and resources of the U.S. military forces assigned to the area,” according to the release.

The troops will receive specific medical training and use special protective equipment to protect them from exposure to the virus.

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