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Military Leave: What It Is and How It Works

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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 orders. 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 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 Defense Department 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 former 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 or using telephonic and 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.

Bereavement Leave for Service Members

Learn more about nonchargeable, paid leave for eligible service members who experience the death of a spouse or child.

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 pay 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 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.

Expanded parental leave is non-chargeable leave granted to eligible service members, both birth parents and non-birth parents, following the birth of a child of the service member, the adoption of a minor child by the service member or the placement of a minor child with the service member for adoption or long-term foster care in order to care for the child. Eligible service members are authorized 12 weeks of parental leave during the one year period beginning on the date of the qualifying event. The 12 weeks of parental leave is in addition to any convalescent leave that may be authorized for the recovery of the birth parent from giving birth.

View more information about the expanded Military Parental Leave Program.

Reserve component maternity leave (RCML) is an authorized absence of an eligible reserve component member from inactive duty training (IDT) following childbirth at which they would otherwise be required to attend. RCML is comprised of up to 12 IDT periods of authorized absence within one year following the date of the qualifying birth event. While absent, eligible reserve component members will be entitled to receive the equivalent inactive duty pay, special and incentive pays(s), and bonuses and crediting of retirement points that they would have otherwise been entitled to receive per IDT period had they not been absent. 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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