The Department of Defense has issued guidance for military members advising them that COVID-19 benefits and allowances are available during the coronavirus outbreak. A number of military allowances (including per diem) and training policies are affected by the most current guidance issued during the coronavirus pandemic.
DoD Guidance for troops in this area include rules for claiming or managing:
- Hardship Duty Pay (HDP-ROM)
- Basic Allowance For Subsistence (BAS) For Enlisted Members
- Tricare Protections, Training Policies and SGLI for Reserve Members
- Family Separation Housing (FSH)
- Family Separation Allowance (FSA)
- Per Diem Allowances While Isolated Or Awaiting Travel
- Special Leave Accrual
- VA and DoD Identification Card Renewal and Issuance Guidance
- National Guard & Reserve
The Defense Department has issued additional guidance to supplement previous coronavirus policy and containment measures to add updates for issues related to TRICARE, Hazardous Duty pay and other special pay, and specific training guidance for Reserve members.
DoD Updates Special Pay Guidance
Some service members who qualify for incentive pay including Hazardous Duty and Aviation pay may be “unable to perform the required duties through no fault of their own” due to self-quarantine, command-directed isolation, or other measures. The inability to perform the duty which qualifies the service member for incentive pay has been addressed by the April 9, 2020 policy update.
Going forward (but not to exceed 12 months), performance requirements to earn such incentive pay is suspended at the discretion of the military service secretaries. Specifically, the guidance states:
“…members who, but for the effects or extended effects of COVID-19, would otherwise be eligible to receive performance-based special or incentive pays, the Secretary concerned is hereby authorized in the interest of equity to suspend, for a period not to exceed 12 months, the requirement to perform specific duties and allow members to continue to receive their pay.”
Basic Allowance For Subsistence (BAS) For Enlisted Members During Self-Quarantine
DoD policy now includes a provision for officer and enlisted troops who are not entitled to “the meals portion of a per diem” and who are ordered to self-isolate or otherwise restrict movement (related to COVID-19) while housed in government living quarters.
Under the updated guidelines, those under such conditions who use “government provided meals” via a military dining facility or similar government-operated facilities are not charged for those meals AND do not lose their pre-existing BAS arrangement.
These troops are also allowed to use government run dining facilities without charge during the restricted movement period.
The DoD instructs troops who have self-quarantined that they will NOT lose Basic Allowance for Subsistence pay if they accept food service from government dining facilities such as the base chow hall. Under the updated policy mentioned above, those who do not qualify for per diem meals and who are under restricted movement orders while staying in government quarters will not be charged to use the base dining facility.
Some troops want to know if they can qualify for BAS at Subsistence Level II double the usual rate while self-quarantining. The answer is generally no unless service members are staying in a facility that has no food storage capacity “which in turn requires the member to get his or her meals from a commercial source” according to the DoD.
BAS II may only be authorized in such circumstances “if it is uniformly authorized for all enlisted members in similar situations” in the same area.
About Basic Allowance For Subsistence (BAS)
The Basic Allowance for Subsistence pay allowance is for Enlisted Soldiers and Officers intended to offset the cost of grocery and food-related expenses. Meals (including government-provided meals) must be paid for directly by the service member. BAS funds may be made available with a meal card management system.
Important TRICARE Protections For Reserve Members
Reservists who are enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) are normally required to pay monthly premiums “that represent 28 percent of the cost of the coverage by law”. Those premiums cannot be waived even due to economic problems due to COVID-19.
However, DoD policy now states that in cases where TRICARE cannot collect premiums, “…the contractor will delay terminating coverage until 90 days after the date the COVID-19 emergency has ended as determined by the Director, Defense Health Agency (DHA)”.
What do Reserve members need to know about this policy? If the TRICARE account is not settled within 90 days after the end of the COVID-19 emergency (which at the time of this writing has NOT BEEN DECLARED), coverage is terminated “retroactive to the last premium paid-through date”.
Reserve Training Policy Updates
Department of Defense rules state that Inactive Duty for Training periods must consist of “…regularly scheduled unit training periods (regularly scheduled drills), additional IDT periods, and voluntary IDT.” DoD COVID-19 policy updates include the ability for Reserve commanders to designate alternate places of duty for IDT including “telework” for training and drills. “This exception to policy is granted only in cases where warranted due to local conditions from COVID-19” according to the DoD.
Reserve members who have Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI), Traumatic SGLI (TSGLI), or Family SGLI (FSGLI) coverage “do not lose coverage due to non-payment of premiums when RC members do not receive active or inactive duty pay, from which premiums were normally deducted” in cases where scheduled training including Annual Training, Active Duty for Training, and IDT (see above) was cancelled due to coronavirus issues.
Any missed premiums “will be subsequently deducted in a lump sum once IDT, AT, or ADT resumes and they are once again in a pay status”.
Hardship Duty Pay–Restriction of Movement (HDP-ROM)
Hardship Duty Pay is a new type of military hardship pay offered to offset “hardship associated with being ordered to self-monitor in isolation” as part of the coronavirus containment effort. Who qualifies for this hardship pay? Those ordered to restrict movement “somewhere other than at their home” or in a government facility.
HDP-ROM is only payable in situations in which the member remains assigned to the same permanent duty station. This pay is not offered for those placed in isolation during official travel including Permanent Change Of Station moves.
You Cannot Choose, You Must Be Ordered To Isolate
This kind of pay is not available for individuals who choose to self-monitor and place themselves in a hotel or other non-government facility.
According to the DoD, “HDP-ROM may only be paid in the case where your commander (in conjunction with military or civilian health care providers) determines that you are required to self-monitor” and there is a lawful order given for you to isolate at “a location not provided by or funded by the government.”
Travel Through A CDC Level 3 Country
Those who travel through a CDC Level Three country may be ordered to self-quarantine and isolate from dependents / family members–even those who did not travel to the CDC Level 3 country and do not show symptoms.
In cases where this is true AND there are no on-post government housing options OR government-funded lodging are available and you must pay without being reimbursed by other means, you may be eligible for HDP-ROM as a taxable payment of $100 per day, not to exceed $1,500 per month.
It is never safe to assume you are entitled to pay in these special conditions; ask your unit orderly room or command support staff BEFORE you travel to learn what options are open to you with these new regulations. In most cases you are not entitled to this type of hardship pay without an order from your commander.
Family Separation Housing (FSH) During The Coronavirus
In some cases, military members who PCSed before the stop-move order took effect may bring the service member to a new assignment without dependents.
Are such conditions enough to justify a second Basic Allowance For Housing to pay for the new home required after the PCS AND for the home the dependents must remain in due to the coronavirus Stop Movement order?
According to the DoD, “BAH at the new duty station and Family Separation Housing Allowance (FSH) will be authorized” only if all the following apply:
- Government quarters are not available at the new duty station,
- Off-base, non government housing is used, and
- The dependent does not reside at or near the duty station.
Troops in such circumstances may continue to receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) at the “with-dependent” rate for your dependent’s location OR the losing base/permanent duty station. The amount you are paid is whichever amount is “most equitable.” FSH is paid in a monthly amount at the without-dependent” BAH rate for the new permanent duty station.
Family Separation Allowances do not stop if your dependent(s) visit you at the gaining base, but the visit cannot exceed 90 days.
About Family Separation Housing (FSH)
FSH may be authorized when a separation results from military orders and not because of personal choices of the member and dependents. FSH may be payable to a member with dependents for the additional housing expenses resulting from separation from the dependents when a member is assigned to an OCONUS PDS, or to a PDS in CONUS to which concurrent travel has been denied. FSH must be authorized by PSC.
Family Separation Allowance (FSA) During The Coronavirus
Military members should be aware that while some situations may justify FSA, one does not–when a military member has been hospitalized in or near the current duty station and is in isolation.
Troops cannot claim FSA in such cases. FSA is also not authorized for restrictions issued in connection with self-monitoring or quarantine even though the family is nearby. This is true even during command-directed quarantine.
In cases where the command orders troops into restricted movement to facilitate self monitoring, some troops may be eligible for Hardship Duty Pay – Restriction of Movement (HDP-ROM), but this may depend on where you are ordered to self-monitor.
You will need to discuss such pay with your unit orderly room, First Individual, Command Sergeant Major, Senior Chief, etc.
FSA will definitely continue for those who were TDY and not permitted to return home until the end of the Stop Movement order. According to the DoD, FSA for TDY purposes must include a separation for 30 days or more to qualify. This is also true of those who were making PCS moves but were separated from dependents by the Stop Movement directive for 30 days or more.
About Family Separation Allowance (FSA)
Family Separation Allowance (FSA) is payable to a servicemember with dependent family members when the servicemember is required to be away from their permanent duty station for more than 30 continuous days in a TDY status and their dependents are not residing at or near the temporary station. FSA is $250 per month.
Per Diem Allowances While Isolated Or Awaiting Travel
Per Diem allowances are typically paid for TDY and PCS travel, but due to the stop movement order some troops may be in isolation, awaiting travel, or in other status that is affected by COVID-19 containment policies.
There are too many individual circumstances to list here that may qualify for payment of Per Diem and other travel benefits or allowances, but essentially the rules of thumb include the following:
- In general, if lodging and other TDY travel needs are available, Per Diem is likely not payable.
- If military dependents are traveling with the military member and refuse to self-quarantine or self-isolate when directed, Per Diem may not be payable.
- Military members may be entitled to Per Diem and other travel pay if they are isolated in transit, awaiting transport when traveling back to the losing base when directed to do so, etc. Much is circumstantial and you will need to ask about your specific circumstances to see what is currently authorized. Do not assume you will receive Per Diem; always ask and plan accordingly.
- Those who left their losing base and had travel canceled will likely qualify for Per Diem while awaiting transport.
About Per Diem Allowances
Per Diem is a daily allotment to reimburse service members for the out-of-pocket cost of food, lodging, and incidental expenses that occur while on military business or temporary assigned duty (TDY or TAD) away from their home station. Per Diem sets the limit to how much a service member can be reimbursed for meals and lodging.
Special Leave Accrual
Effective March 11, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2020 members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Space Force performing active-duty service, are authorized to accumulate annual leave in excess of 60 days (not to exceed 120 days) as shown on the end of month September 2020 Leave and Earnings Statement (LES). Members can retain their unused leave until the end of Fiscal Year 2023 (i.e., Sept. 30, 2023). This authorization does not apply to Service members who would otherwise be authorized to accumulate leave in excess of 60 days as of Oct. 1, 2020.
Each year, active-duty service members are granted 30 days of leave, but at the end of each fiscal year, they normally lose any unused leave exceeding 60 days. With the leniency granted due to the pandemic travel restrictions, service members can now accrue a leave balance of up to 120 days until Sept. 30, 2023.
Special Leave Accrual Details
- 240 hours (30 days) is the normal leave balance service members may carry over each year is.
- 960 hours (120 days) may be carried over during the current emergency and until Sept. 30, 2023.
- All restored annual leave must be scheduled and used not later than the end of the leave year ending two years from the year the annual leave was earned after the termination of the current emergency.
- At the end of each fiscal year, normally leave in excess of 480 hours (60 days) is lost.
VA and DoD Identification Card Renewal and Issuance Guidance
The Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have provided options if you have a VA or DoD ID card that has expired or is getting ready to expire or need a brand new or replacement card.
DoD-issued Common Access Cards (CAC) & Volunteer Logical Access Credentials (VoLAC)
(including military and civilian personnel)
- DoD civilian cardholders who are transferring jobs within DoD are authorized to retain their active CAC.
- Cardholders whose DoD-issued CAC is within 30 days of expiration may update their certificates online to extend the life of the CAC through Sept. 30, 2020, without having to visit a DoD ID card office in person for reissue. See the CAC.mil User Guide under News & Updates provides instruction.
- Cardholders whose DoD-issued CAC has expired will have to visit a DoD ID card office in person for reissuance. Find a DoD ID card office near you and schedule an appointment at https://rapids-appointments.dmdc.osd.mil.
- Existing and new Trusted Associate Sponsorship System (TASS) applications will be valid for 180 days, permitting TASS-sponsored cardholders to take advantage of the remote options to update their certificates.
- CACs shall not be reissued due to printed information changes (e.g., promotions, name changes).
DoD-issued Uniformed Services ID Cards (USID)
(including Reservist, military retiree, 100% disabled Veteran, and authorized dependent ID cards)
- Expiration dates on USID cards will be automatically extended to Sept. 30, 2020, within DEERS for cardholders whose affiliation with DoD has not changed but whose USID card has expired after Jan. 1, 2020.
- Sponsors of USID card holders may make family member enrollment and eligibility updates remotely.
- Initial card issuance or replacement or renewal may be done remotely with an expiration date of one year from date of issue.
- The minimum age for initial USID card issuance is increased from 10 to 14 years.
- Continued use of the Reserve USID card to obtain active duty benefits is authorized for mobilized Reservists and their eligible dependents.
VA-issued Veteran Health Identification Cards (VHIC)
- New VHIC: Enrolled in VA health care Veterans seeking a new VHIC should contact their local VA medical facility for guidance for visiting a facility to request a card.
- Replacement VHIC: Most Veterans can obtain a replacement VHIC by contacting their local VA medical facility and making their request by phone, or they can call 877-222-8387, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. A replacement card will be mailed to them.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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