Though COVID-19 is becoming less of a threat nationwide, the Pentagon is giving service secretaries the authority to make troops in certain units and locations, or aboard some deployable ships, eligible for continued special leave accrual if their ability to take leave is limited.
According to a Monday Facebook post from Ramon Colon-Lopez, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the service secretaries have been tasked with identifying deployable ships, mobile units or other duties where COVID-19 restrictions limit the ability for service members to take leave.
While the announcement notes that most installations in the United States and overseas are “open,” travel limitations are “conditions-based” and certain areas in Europe and Japan are still under COVID-19 restrictions.
“Where conditions that severely restrict members’ opportunities to take/use leave still exist, Service Secretaries may designate ships, mobile units, or other duties (which may include locations) for SLA in accordance with Service policies,” the Facebook post states.
Services started determining such locations on May 27. The Joint Staff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military Times regarding the timeline for implementing this new change.
The update comes more than a year after the Pentagon announced it was modifying its leave-accrual policy due to canceled leave and travel restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The revised policy allowed troops to rack up more than the usual 60 days of leave, provided that number did not exceed 120 days, between March 11, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2020. That additional leave could be used up until Sept. 30, 2023.
Those who had earned more than 120 days by the end of September 2020 would lose any days exceeding 120.
“Leave is vital to the continued health and welfare of our service members and civilian workforce and is key to the secretary of defense’s first priority in responding to COVID-19 ― protecting our service members,” Matthew Donovan, then-defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, wrote in an April 2020 memo.
Service members have until September 2023 to use up their special leave accrual and bring down their leave balances to the standard maximum of 60 days that can carry over into the subsequent fiscal year, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence.
“It’s also important to know that a member’s SLA balance is not necessarily static and can decrease during the year if the amount of leave used exceeds the current year-to-date earned leave balance,” Lawrence said in an email to Military Times. “If so, the SLA balance will decrease and become the new maximum carryover amount.”
Leave earned after Sept. 30, 2020, was not subject to the special leave accrual guidelines, and falls under normal leave policies. That means that any leave earned after Oct. 1, 2020, does not raise one’s special leave accrual balance, but instead goes toward the total leave balance. Leave earned during after Oct. 1, 2020 will be used first before service members dip into their special leave accrual balance.
“Any decrease in a member’s SLA balance, or the exact amount of leave an individual Service member might lose at the end FYs 2021, 2022, or 2023, highly depends on an individual member’s pattern of taking leave,” Lawrence said.
“Lastly, SLA is authorized when circumstances exist that significantly restrict the ability of Service members to take leave and manage their leave balances through no fault of their own — not solely because leave balances are greater than 60 days and leave might be lost” at the end of a fiscal year, Lawrence said.