Troops who have accumulated more than 90 days of leave should check their balances to see if they need to use some of it by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Defense officials have changed the rules about carrying leave over from year to year, based on a change in law.

In April 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, defense officials recognized the difficulties service members might have arranging travel and using their well-deserved time off. As a result, they authorized service members to accrue up to 120 days of leave.

As always, service members get 30 days of leave per year. Normally, they can carry 60 days of an unused leave balance into the new fiscal year. But there are exceptions. Under a policy called Special Leave Accrual, they can ask to carry over additional unused leave. During the pandemic, that policy was changed to allow up to 120 days of unused leave to be carried over.

No longer. Beginning Oct. 1, troops can only accumulate a total of 90 days leave — 60 days of annual leave, plus an extra 30 days under Special Leave Accrual. The revision in the amount of leave that can be carried over was mandated in the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

Troops who had a leave balance of 90 days or less on Dec. 31, 2022, are now subject to the 90-day leave carry-over cap. On Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2024, they will forfeit any accrued leave that exceeds the 90-day cap, according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service website.

Enlisted troops who could lose accrued leave in excess of 90 days can sell back up to 30 days of their leave, but this action can only be taken once during a career.

Fortunately, despite the change, many service members will still have several more years to draw their leave balances down without forfeiting their time off.

Service members who amassed between 90.5 and 120 days of leave before the end of 2022 — due to the pandemic or other approved reasons — may continue to use that leave according to timelines established by their branch of service. According to DFAS:

  • The 120-day cap still applies for this group;
  • Members’ original Special Leave Accrual expiration date will stay the same;
  • Once a member’s balance decreases to 90 days or less, between fiscal 2023 and the end of fiscal 2026, the 90-day cap will apply going forward. Leave that exceeds 90 days on Oct. 1, 2026, will have to be forfeited.

Under the Special Leave Accrual policy, service members assigned to certain duties that prevent them from taking annual leave might be eligible to carry over more leave if they get approval to do so from the first flag or general officer in their chain of command.

No service member whose accrued leave balance exceeds 90 days will be authorized additional Special Leave Accrual at the end of fiscal 2023.

Defense officials encourage service members to check the “remarks” section of their Leave and Earning Statement to keep tabs on their leave balance and avoid having to forfeit days of leave. There will be a note about your “Protected Special Leave Accrual Balance,” which is the amount you’re allowed to carry over, and includes the expiration date of that balance.

According to DFAS, your “Use/Lose” balance field on the LES is now: Any normal leave set to expire by Sept. 30 of the current year.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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