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Military Leave: What It Is and How It Works

Current as of Jan. 5, 2022

As part of the military pay and benefits package, military service members earn 30 days of paid leave per year. You start at zero and for every month of military service, 2.5 days of leave get added to your leave account. It doesn’t stop, but the most you can carry over from one fiscal year to the next fiscal year is 60 days, except in certain, very limited situations where you can carry over more.

Reserve component members, including National Guard, also accrue leave at the rate of 2.5 days for each month that they are on active-duty order. Reserve components have some special rules for how and when they can use their leave.

Service members are expected to use leave for any workday that they will not be available for work, as required by their command. They are also are expected to use leave for any day that they leave the vicinity of their duty station, as defined by their command.

COVID-19 special leave accrual update

The Department of Defense recognizes that the COVID-19 national emergency has significantly limited service members’ ability to take leave. The department also recognizes that leave is vital to health and welfare. That’s why Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan signed a department-wide authorization on April 16, 2020, for service members to accrue and retain an additional leave balance of up to 120 days. Members who performed active service from March 11, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2020, could accrue leave up to 120 days and retain unused leave until Sept. 30, 2023.

When can you take leave

Service members may request leave at any time. Approval will be at the discretion of the command, based upon a wide variety of factors including operational requirements.

Some commands may have specified times when all or portions of the command can take leave at the same time. This is sometimes referred to as “block leave” and may happen before or after a deployment or during a holiday period. Commonly, block leave time is allowed during the summer and Christmas holidays, and before and after deployments.

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How to request leave

Every command will have its own procedures for requesting leave. It may involve a paper or electronic leave request form, sometimes called a “leave chit.” The command will then approve or deny the leave request.

The service member must be sure to notify the command when beginning their approved leave, often called “checking out” on leave and when returning from leave, “checking in.” The policies and procedures for checking out and checking in vary between commands and may include being physically present, telephonic or electronic notification.

You’ve earned it – Use your leave or lose it

Leave time continues to add up as earned, but there is a limit to how much leave can be carried over from one fiscal year to another. Typically, if you have accrued more than two months of unused leave, you lose any amount that exceeds 60 days at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

A service member may be authorized to carry over more than 60 days of leave for a period of time. This is called a special leave accrual and is usually authorized due to deployment to certain areas of the world, assignment to certain designated units or operational requirements that prevent the service member from taking leave.

Selling back leave

Service members may sell back leave when they reenlist, when they extend an enlistment or when they separate from the military. You may sell back a maximum of 60 days of leave over the course of your military career. Military leave is sold back at your base pay rate and does not include any special pays or allowances.

The different kinds of military leave policy

As a service member, you have different types of leave available to you. This ranges from regular leave to emergency leave to maternity/convalescent leave and parental leave. Learn more about the different kinds of military leave and even the process for selling leave back.

Regular military leave is any paid leave taken for personal reasons, including vacations, family care, errands or any other purpose. Regular leave is used on workdays and also any time the service member is leaving the vicinity of their duty station, as defined by their command, on a weekend or holiday.

Emergency leave is leave that is taken in response to a family or other emergency situation. Emergency leave is usually authorized very quickly. Emergency leave is paid leave that is chargeable against your leave balance.

Convalescent leave is a non-chargeable absence from duty granted to expedite a military member’s return to full duty after illness, injury or childbirth, typically for 30 days or less. Convalescent leave is directed and approved by a doctor and your commander. It is paid leave that is not charged to your leave balance.

Active-duty birth mothers are authorized six weeks of maternity/convalescent leave. After maternity/convalescent leave is completed, the birth mother may receive another six weeks of primary caregiver leave. The non-birth parent receives up to three weeks of secondary caregiver leave. This paid leave is not chargeable against the service member’s leave balance.

Primary and secondary caregivers may request ordinary leave in conjunction with the birth of a child. Details of the leave program vary by service. Paid ordinary leave is chargeable to your leave balance.

The FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act provides for paid maternity leave for drill-status women in both the Guard and reserve. This will allow excused absences with pay and retirement points for up to three months of unit training assemblies. The leave period starts immediately after birth or the mother’s release from the hospital. Talk to your pay and benefits personnel for additional guidance.

Terminal leave is regular, chargeable leave used immediately prior to separation or retirement from the military. Taking terminal leave lets you use accrued leave in lieu of selling the leave. Terminal leave is granted at the discretion of your command.

No. Military members who are unwell will present themselves to medical personnel, who will determine whether they should be kept from work. If the service member is directed to remain away from work, they will be classified as “sick in quarters” for a designated period of time, generally not to exceed 72 hours.

In certain circumstances, you may be able to sell unused leave. There is a limit to how much leave you can sell back during your term in the military, 60 days total. Leave may be sold back when you reenlist or when you separate from the military.

Leave is an important part of your total military benefits package. Take advantage of some of your other military benefits while enjoying your leave. Learn more about your military pay and allowances as well as other financial benefits.

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