WASHINGTON — Grieving Soldiers who have recently lost a child or spouse now have the option to take up to 14 days of non-chargeable bereavement leave, based on a policy signed by the Secretary of the Army on May 8.
Soldiers will be allowed the time off to make funeral and burial arrangements for deceased loved ones as part of a directive passed by the Secretary of Defense on March 29. The new policy, which falls under the National Defense Authorization Act, also allows troops bereavement time to grieve before returning to duty. The service published its All Army Activities summary of the directive or ALARACT, this week.
“During this time, we don't want our Soldiers thinking about the mission or readiness,” said Larry Anderson, assistant deputy of military pay, compensation and entitlements, Assistant Secretary of the Army’s Office for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. “We just want them to take care of themselves and be mentally, spiritually and physically able to come back and accomplish that mission. This is just one of the many touch points to help them go through that grieving process.”
About 270 Soldiers across the force have already applied for bereavement leave, Anderson said.
Soldiers who have less than 30 days of leave on the date of death are eligible for up to 14 consecutive days of bereavement. Soldiers with more than 30 days leave become eligible for bereavement leave once their leave balance falls below 30 days. Soldiers who have served longer than one year are eligible for the program.
Additionally, Soldiers whose loved ones have passed away on or after June 25, 2022 and took chargeable leave associated with those deaths can have up to 14 days of charged leave restored.
The loss of a child or spouse can have a spiraling impact on the morale and mental health of a Soldier. In addition to the emotional and psychological toll, a Soldier who loses a spouse may have to take on additional duties such as more childcare responsibilities, Anderson said.
“Now your entire life has been interrupted,” Anderson said. “And during that time, we need them worrying about their family and making sure they have the necessary resources for their wellbeing. If a Soldier isn't worried about what they're supposed to be doing on their mission, there's a possibility that lives could be at stake.”
Soldiers who have suffered the loss of another relative, such as a parent, or Soldiers who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth, do not qualify for bereavement leave.
Previously, Soldiers who suffered a death in the family had the option of taking chargeable, emergency leave or annual leave.
Now, Soldiers have a more convenient option for taking time away from duty. Army Chief of Compensation J.D. Riley said that the policy aligns with the Army’s priority of taking care of its people.
“The Army is people first, so this is a big step forward for service members,” Riley said. “Because when you take care of Soldiers and Families, readiness takes care of itself.”
Anderson, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, said he saw the effects of a loved one’s death on a fellow service member in 2003.
The Airman, an Air Force reservist, served as a medical technician during a stateside deployment at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The Airman’s active-duty spouse died in a motorcycle accident, Anderson said.
“I kind of saw how it shook that person,” Anderson said. “I don’t think that [Airman] ever recovered. We’ve never had any [leave policy] of this precedence. So this is a great step in showing service members, we do care.”
After Soldiers return to duty from bereavement leave, they will have 30 days to provide documentation to company-level commanders. Anderson said that the Army has left the documentation requirement to the discretion of a Soldier’s chain of command, so that the Soldier can focus on recovery.
“It’s about mourning,” Riley said. “People need time to grieve and people grieve in different ways.”