WASHINGTON– Servicemembers expecting to lose annual leave on Sept. 30 due to caps on carryover leave will be the first to benefit from a new policy that allows them to
keep more annual leave, earn or hold on to certain special leave categories, and in some cases, sell back accrued leave.

The new military leave policy, part of the fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, allows troops to carry over 75 days rather than the previous 60 days into the next fiscal year, Sam Retherford, the Pentagon’s deputy director of officer personnel management, told American Forces Press Service.

The new policy, in place until Dec. 31, 2010, is expected to reduce the amount of lost leave caused by the current high operating tempo. Quality-of-life surveys conducted over the past five years show that about 13 percent of the force lost up to 20 days leave each year, Retherford said. Senior noncommissioned officers and officers who have accrued more leave were the most likely to be affected.

The Defense Department had been proposing policies to fix the situation, and welcomes Congress’ support for measures that raise the leave carryover ceiling, increase the amount of “special accrued leave” earned in a contingency zone operation, and provides another opportunity for troops to sell back used leave, Retherford said.

The new policy also extends the period servicemembers deployed to a combat zone or supporting a contingency operation have to use their accrued leave. Those who served in a combat zone now have up to four years to reduce their leave from the maximum 120 days to the 75-day cap provided for under the new provision.

Those supporting contingency operations can take up to three years to get their leave down to the new cap.

The new policy also allows enlisted members to sell back up to 30 days of special accrued leave – leave earned in a combat zone or designated contingency operation — they would otherwise have lost beyond the 120-day limit, Retherford said. Leave accrued in a combat zone is more valuable than regular leave, because it is not taxed, he said.

Enlisted troops can sell back leave when they re-enlist or when they leave the military with an honorable discharge. Officers can sell back leave only when separating from the military under honorable conditions.

Troops can sell back only 60 days of leave over the span of their career, Retherford said.

The new policy also extends the special rest and recuperation absence from 15 to 20 days for troops completing an overseas duty tour extension longer than 12 months and electing government-paid transportation. Those who pay for their own transportation for special rest and recuperation are still authorized the previous 30 days absence.

The new military leave policy ensures that servicemembers don’t lose out because they’re unable to take leave due to the high operating tempo, Retherford said.

“Lost leave is an issue, because leave is an entitlement. It is worth money,” he said. “This new policy sends the message that the department values the worth of the entitlement, but recognizes that there is not always the opportunity for people to take leave because of the current operational environment.”

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