Some troops waiting in stateside quarantine after their Ebola relief work in West Africa are being denied separation pay despite the continued time away from their families, thanks to a quirk in military pay rules.
Defense officials could not say how many people are affected by the problem, but it has caught the attention of lawmakers upset that troops aren't being fully rewarded for the hardship of their mission.
Roughly 3,000 service members were deployed to Africa in recent months for Ebola-related recovery missions. As those operations wound down, all of the troops involved have been required to undergo a 30-day medical quarantine to ensure they weren't exposed to the deadly disease.
That quarantine takes place at five locations in the U.S.: Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas; Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; and Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
Troops are able to perform some work duties and exercise during the quarantine, but are blocked from contact with most base employees and their loved ones. Since the quarantine is considered part of their deployment, most troops with families are still eligible for their $250 monthly separation pay during that time.
But troops whose permanent duty station is one of those quarantine sites are ineligible for the extra pay. Separation pay is only made available to troops serving away from their home station, even if their work back home specifically prohibits them from seeing their families.
One service member currently on quarantine called the situation frustrating for the troops involved, since they see other troops from their mission getting the extra pay while they're still kept away from their spouses and children.
"It's so ridiculous," said the service member, who asked to remain anonymous while speaking without department consent. "For some of the enlisted guys, that's a large amount of money to lose."
Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said that decision isn't up to the services. Under federal regulations, the quarantined troops can be granted "temporary duty" status but not given an exception when stationed at their home base.
Christensen could not say how many troops have been affected by the separation pay problem.
Lawmakers are upset that any lost out on the pay. Members of the House Armed Services Committee are reviewing the regulations, to see if the rules or military interpretation of them is to blame for the problem.
Committee spokesman John Noonan said Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is concerned about the issue and "urges the Army to fix this problem before the quarantine ends."
Only about 100 U.S. personnel supporting Ebola-related contingencies are still deployed in West Africa, and all of the troops who recently returned from deployment will be out of quarantine in the next few weeks.