Some deployed service members will not be charged for rest and recuperation leave under a new Defense Department policy.
The new policy allows service members in designated areas to go on rest and recuperation leave without charge to their leave accounts. “So, in a sense, it is an administrative absence [for] up to 15 days,” said Sam Retherford, the Defense Department’s director of officer and enlisted personnel management.
In the past, the leave was charged to service members’ accounts, though travel time from the theater to the airport closest to their destinations was not charged, Retherford said.
The nonchargeable rest and recuperation leave program will be limited to the “most arduous” areas, and the combatant commander must recommend it through the Joint Staff for approval by the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Retherford said.
To qualify for the program, members must be serving in a leave-restricted area, where no dependents are allowed. They must be receiving hostile fire pay and be in areas where travel in and out of the country is restricted. “Two additional areas are that the duty has to be extremely arduous and the command has to foresee continuing combat operations,” Retherford said.
The benefit will take effect once an area is designated by the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and will not apply retroactively.
The Army identified the need as especially important for junior members, Retherford said, because they typically do not have a large amount of leave accumulated.
“At the end of their deployment, there is very little in their leave accounts for rest, recuperation and reintegration to the family and community,” he said. “So, this program means they will not be charged for the R and R leave, and they will have that leave upon redeployment.”
Inability to take leave upon returning from a deployment is a problem. The services want their people to take leave so they can decompress and reintegrate with their families and communities. The services have been allowing administrative leave upon redeployment from a combat zone, but generally limit it to local areas around bases.
Service members already in Iraq and Afghanistan who qualify for R and R leave will qualify for the nonchargeable R and R program. The areas that qualify for the program have to be redesignated every two years.
The commander of U.S. Central Command requested that Iraq and Afghanistan be designated as nonchargeable rest and recuperation areas, Retherford said. “We quickly coordinated this request with the military departments to ensure we provided service members with this new benefit as quickly as possible,” he added.
About one million service members have participated in CENTCOM’s rest and recuperation program.
Due to the requirement for combat operations in a presidentially designated combat zone, the nonchargeable rest and recuperation program should be limited to U.S. Central Command, officials said.