(EditorAca,!a,,cs note: This is the first of a two-part series on Early Return of Dependents, which is the return of family members to a stateside location or native country while the sponsor remains overseas)

BAMBERG, Germany Aca,!" Although some people may believe that Early Return of Dependents action is a way for the military to deal with troubling family matters, this is not entirely true.

There are two forms of EROD: sponsor requested (also known as Advanced Return of Dependents) and command directed.

The latter usually deals with an unfortunate situation for all involved. Command directed will be addressed in part two of this series. However, it's important to understand the two types of EROD share some commonalities.

The details for allowing a family member to reside with a sponsor are agreed upon in a Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and a foreign nation where Americans are stationed.

In this legal agreement, it states all family members who accompany a servicemember or civilian employee on a command-sponsored assignment will have the privilege to reside overseas with their sponsor. This status is a privilege and not a right, which is why dependents need to have sponsors.

U.S. regulations governing EROD are defined in the Joint Federal Travel Regulations U5900 Part J - Sub Paragraph D; Army Regulation 55-46 Overseas Travel - Chapter 5, Section 3; and Army Europe Supplement 1 to AR 55-46 Paragraph 5-8 and 5-9.

Regulations state that a family memberAca,!a,,cs early return needs to be in the government's best interest, with garrison commanders making a final decision.

The sponsor-requested EROD, submitted through a DA 4187, can often provide some benefits to the sponsor and dependents; however, the request must be supported by justifiable documentation.

Some situations where a sponsor-requested EROD may apply include:

*Divorces or annulment;
*Serious illness, for which treatment is not available at the overseas assignment;
*Death or serious illness, which makes a primary caregiver unable to care for minor children;
*Death or serious illness of close relative.

Requesting EROD for a medical condition requires documentation and a recommended approval by a licensed, credentialed provider, such as a physician, psychologist, social worker, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Documentation must be reviewed by the health clinic commander.

Aca,!A"Conditions such as environmental asthma or severe autism may be reasons that some dependents request an EROD,Aca,!A? said Lt. Col. Pablito Gahol, commander of U.S. Army Health Clinic Bamberg.

Members with serious illnesses that are not treatable at the sponsor's permanent duty station will be granted travel approval according to regulations, but this will have to be determined and approved by a medical professional.

For an EROD to be approved for a medical condition, the health clinic commander must provide statements showing care needed for a medical condition are not available at the duty station or in the theater, said Lisa Morales, a specialist for BambergAca,!a,,cs Directorate of Human Resources.

Gahol labeled the non-availability documentation as Aca,!A"extremely important,Aca,!A? especially as U.S. military organizations frequently use host-nation medical providers and facilities. Aca,!A"Oftentimes,Aca,!A? he said, Aca,!A"they have services available to patients who have not explored these options, or do not know that these services are available in the area.Aca,!A?

Therefore, Aca,!A"Once we receive the request for EROD due to unavailability of medical services in the area,Aca,!A? Gahol said, Aca,!A"our providers look at options available within the theater to assist patients Aca,!A| (with) their medical needs.Aca,!A?

According to travel regulations, an EROD must be beneficial to the military.

Aca,!A"We always look at ways to balance the needs of the Soldiers, their dependents and the organization,Aca,!A? Gahol said. Aca,!A"If we determine that medical services are not available at the permanent duty station, or would cause extreme hardship for the Soldier and family member to travel to Landstuhl (Regional Medical Center) on a regular basis for medical appointments, we support the request for EROD.Aca,!A?

Additionally, Gahol said EROD due to medical reasons oftentimes is less costly for the government if care is provided in a military treatment facility versus on the economy.

But more importantly, he added, it is in the best interest of the government, the Soldier, and the family member to support EROD in order for the dependent to receive the best attention possible if that care is only available stateside. If Soldiers know family members are getting appropriate medical care in the States, Gahol said, they Aca,!A"can perform the organization mission more effectively.Aca,!A?

Bamberg family life consultant Chaplain (Maj.) Dave Jacob said an EROD is often used in divorce situations, but is also a commander's tool for dealing with certain situations that confront Soldiers and families.

Aca,!A"Considerations to take into account in an EROD situation are numerous,Aca,!A? Jacob said. Aca,!A"The most common reason for an EROD is the ending of a marriage.Aca,!A?

Jacob said moving forward with an EROD is often Aca,!A"a signal the marriage is beyond repair and is over in all intents and purposes.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"In terms of a marriage, the EROD is the absolute last resort, used only when all other avenues for marital help are exhausted,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"This should also be the case for any other type of EROD.Aca,!A?

Chaplains provide a recommendation regarding the EROD that becomes a part of the paperwork for EROD processing.

Aca,!A"Typically, the chaplain of the unit involved writes this recommendation,Aca,!A? Jacob said.

The chaplain will sit down with the individual, couple, or family to discuss all the issues.

The chaplain can help the parties involved ensure all avenues of help are truly exhausted.

The chaplain will discuss whether or not potential EROD family members will have the required level of support at their new destination before recommending an EROD to command.

EROD for a deployment situation is not a consideration, Morales said.

When a sponsor has less than 12 months remaining on an overseas tour and the Soldier's unit deploys Aca,!" or the individual is stoplossed Aca,!" then the date of expected return from overseas is extended, with family members remaining at the overseas duty location for the duration of the overseas tour, Morales said.

Family members could return to the United States, but the cost must come from personal expenses versus government funding, Morales said. If a Soldier's family-care plan is stateside, it is the Soldier's personal responsibility to take children to their care-provider's location.

This is in accordance with Army Europe Supplement 1 to AR 55-46.

However, at the beginning of an overseas tour, servicemembers may use an entitlement in a deployment situation. Before dependents move to the overseas duty location with a sponsor, they can stay at their present stateside location and the Soldier can request sponsorship before he returns from a deployment.

The request to remain at old permanent duty station must be submitted to Department of the Army level.

Although this is not an EROD, it is supported by the Joint Federal Travel Regulations and is an option available to servicemembers, Morales said. It does not fall into the same category as a geographical bachelor, and the servicemember is still entitled basic housing allowance as an exception to policy.

EROD is viewed as a last resort after all available resources have been exhausted both on and off post and upon final determination that the family's personal difficulties have failed, Morales said.

The reason why: cost factor.

Aca,!A"The expense to the government entails travel, transportation of household goods and POV, dislocation allowance, and BAH.Aca,!A? Morales said.

For example, Morales noted that if a Soldier has a family member returned to California and the household goods are sent with the dependent, 12 months later, the Soldier may PCS from Germany to Fort Drum, N.Y. The Soldier is now authorized to move the family and household goods from California to New York. The EROD may end up doubling the cost of a PCS move.