WASHINGTON -- Soldiers who have continued to serve during the coronavirus pandemic can now accumulate an additional 60 days of leave, according to new guidance.
A special leave accrual allows Soldiers who have served between March 11 and Sept. 30 of 2020 to carryover up to 120 leave days of leave into fiscal year 2021, doubling the normal carryover limit of 60 days.
Soldiers who have already accumulated extra leave on another special leave accrual due to a deployment or an extended hospital stay can also add additional days to their FY total, but cannot exceed the 120-day cap.
To help maintain readiness across the force, the Defense Department encourages Soldiers to spread out using their leave. Soldiers have until the end of Fiscal 2023 to use the additional leave days earned in 2020.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Blank, assigned to the 18th Medical Command at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, learned last month that he might lose 23 days of leave when the DOD placed travel restrictions on service members.
Blank had deployed to Guam in support of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Due to the DOD travel ban, he could not take leave days to visit his family in the U.S. He said the new instruction will bring Soldiers in similar situations much-needed relief.
“It definitely takes a lot of stress off Soldiers,” Blank said of the extended special leave accrual. “It’s going to allow people to be together with their families when they’re able to take leave.”
Blank had planned to use his accrued leave this spring to visit his wife and two daughters in Washington state. The pandemic conditions have placed his leave plans on an indefinite hold.
“Right now it’s a coin toss on when I’m going to be able to see my wife and kids again,” he said.
J. D. Riley, deputy chief of the Army compensations and entitlements division, G-1, said DOD made the change to address concerns of Soldiers who do not wish to take leave during the pandemic and to reward Soldiers for their efforts in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Soldiers currently may only take local leave and must remain within a 50-mile radius of their home station.
“It’s absolutely important,” Riley said. “Although the current leave policy allows people to take leave locally, what you have is a lot of service members don’t want to take leave because most states have said ‘we need you to stay at home.’ They don’t want to take leave for just sitting at home.”
Due to pandemic conditions, new guidance marks the first time an SLA has been implemented for all service members from all service branches, showing the DOD’s dedication to the troops’ well-being, Riley said.
“It absolutely shows the commitment DOD has to taking care of service members,” he said.
Since DOD ordered all non-essential personnel remain home last month, Soldiers have been in a standstill. During the quarantine, most Soldiers are under a domestic travel ban and must avoid going out except to acquire necessities.
The option to retain additional leave gives Soldiers a much-needed morale booster during extended home stays, Riley said.
“We don’t need service members thinking about losing leave and things like that,” he said. “They need to be focused on the mission at hand. They need to be focused on their families.”