Correction: This story was updated on 5/28 to describe the Special Leave Accrual policy more accurately.
We at Task & Purpose love to hear from readers, and one question we’ve gotten from quite a few of you is: “I’ve got piles of unused leave from last year and because of the COVID-19 pandemic I couldn’t go to Disney World (or Las Vegas, or Miami for Spring Break, or that rafting trip with my friends, or whatever.) Do I get to keep it for later?”
And the answer is YES. The military’s unused leave policy is still the same as the one it announced in April 2020. Normally, service members are permitted to carry over just 60 days of leave from one fiscal year to the next, but the Department of Defense doubled that in April, 2020 due to COVID-19-induced travel restrictions. This means service members can carry up to 120 days of unused leave over into the next year, and they have until Sept. 30, 2023 to use it.
While 120 days is the maximum, most service members probably won’t be able to hit that. Why? Because whatever number of days of leave you had left on Sept. 30, 2020 is the most you will be able to carry forward into 2022 and 2023. So if you had 70 days of leave left on Sept. 30, 2020, then 70 is all you can carry over into 2021, 2022 and 2023. If you had 120 days, you can carry over 120, but if you had any less than that, then that’s all you can carry over into 2021, 2022 and 2023.
It gets worse: say you have 100 days of leave leftover on Sept. 30, 2020. You carry that into fiscal year 2021, but say you dip into that for 35 days over the course of fiscal 2021. Is your unused leave limit going into fiscal year 2022 and 2023 still 100 days? Nope, take 35 from 100 and now it’s set at the new level of 65 days. So any amount of leave you dip into will be reflected in how much you can carry over into the next fiscal year. You can get back to your normal maximum carry over amount of 60 days, but no more than that.
How do you check your carry over amount? It’s on your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), down in the comments section, in a new category called Combat Zone Leave Carryover Balance. That section will list your new individual limit.
Now, what happens after Sept. 30, 2023? DoD spokesperson Lisa Lawrence said that generally only a maximum of 60 days of leave would be allowed to carry over into October 2023, which marks the start of the next fiscal year. But some service members who were deployed to combat zones or aboard ships may be eligible to keep more than that, she explained.
“Leave is vital to the continued health and welfare of our service members and civilian workforce,” reads a Defense Department statement published in April, back when it first announced the new policy.
As for what to do once you finally take leave, why not take a trip to Shades of Green, Disney’s hidden vacation spot for vets and service members? Not feeling that? Fair, you’re probably tired of seeing high and tights. There’s always the world’s most dangerous road trip — no, not a deployment to Afghanistan. Instead, you could take the world’s most dangerous bus-tour in Afghanistan! Actually don’t do that, that’s a terrible idea.
However you decide to spend your leave, know that it’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready.
Featured image: Soldiers of 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, stand in line for a pre-manifest as they prepare to leave National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., July 2, 2013 (Army photo / Sgt. Marcus Fichtl)