Types Of Military Leave & How It Works

Updated: November 20, 2020

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    Types Of Military Leave & How It Works What are the different types of military leave and how does military leave work? Active duty military members earn two and a half days of leave per month for a total of 30 days a year with the ability to carry a limited amount of leave over to the following year–the maximum leave you can accrue without entering “use or lose” status is 60 days as an active duty military member.

    Special Leave Accrual

    In some cases, “special leave accrual” may be authorized–this was true during the coronavirus pandemic, when the DoD approved servicemembers to carry an “additional leave balance of up to 120 days” for military service that meets certain requirements within certain dates. In this particular case, this special leave policy was due to COVID-19 leave and travel bans and was meant to accommodate those who were prohibited from taking leave due to the pandemic.

    Guard and Reserve members also earn the same amount of leave when they serve on active duty but there are rules on how these service members can use their leave which may vary depending on the branch of service, current military guidance, etc.

    Conditions Of Being On Leave

    Some sources report that military members are expected to apply for leave in any workday where they are not available for duty. Some of these same sources say service members are expected to be on leave anytime they are away from their duty station (distances specified by command).

    These sources are technically correct, but sometimes fail to mention that service members may be authorized to report for duty elsewhere while on TDY or PCS orders.

    Some military members are authorized permissive TDY in order to go house hunting, but this TDY status is dependent on approval from your chain of command and you may be required to check-in or in-process as a condition of using permissive TDY in this manner. Your command support staff will advise you on the procedures for using “P-TDY”.

    In essence, if you are not traveling or working with authorization on military orders and are outside the local area or not reporting for duty, you should be in leave status or placed upon it.

    When You Can Request Leave

    Military leave can be requested at any time but it’s up to your chain of command to approve or deny such leave. Some leave is not associated with rest and recreation, morale, or vacations–and as such your chain of command may approve it immediately depending on circumstances. Leave requests may be approved or denied based on mission requirements, staffing levels, and other variables.

    Sick Time Is Not Military Leave

    If you get the flu, or other typical illnesses a worker might experience, you will be required to report to Sick Call to be diagnosed and the doctor may put you on restricted duty in some cases or order you to stay home in other cases.

    Neither of these two scenarios require the patient to take military leave. Being “put on quarters” or being restricted to quarters as part of the doctor’s treatment regimen is not considered being on leave nor is it charged to your unused leave balance.

    Selling Back Military Leave

    Some service members choose to hang on to as much leave as possible with the intent of selling it back. This is permitted with restrictions–you may only sell 60 days of leave total back to the government over your entire military career.

    You may wish to hang on to such leave until it’s time to retire or separate–the extra money comes in handy during the transition from a military career to a civilian one. If you sell leave back to the DoD, you only get basic pay for the time–you do not get special allowances or other pay.

    “Ordinary” Military Leave

    Regular leave or ordinary leave is basically using the 2.5 days per month you accrue during active duty military service. You can take a full day, half day, multiple days, etc. Your chain of command will approve or deny your leave request, which must be made in writing, and you will be required to notify the command as to your location during leave–within the local area, traveling, etc.

    You may or may not be permitted to charge leave when you have zero balance available, but that leave must be made up for at some point if you dip into a negative balance.

    Don’t assume your chain of command will permit you to use a negative leave balance in any case, but if you have time in service remaining that would permit you to make up the difference, you may be permitted to do so depending on circumstances.

    Emergency Leave

    Emergencies happen, and family emergencies are among the most common reasons for service members to take Emergency Leave. In most respects, Emergency Leave is the same as regular leave–the amount of time you take is charged against your leave balance and you must apply for leave and be approved.

    Where Emergency Leave differs for most service members? You may be entitled to certain benefits while on this type of military leave. Benefits that include higher priority on Space-A flights, the ability to apply for certain kinds of financial relief where offered (you may qualify for certain kinds of Red Cross financial relief associated with such emergencies, for example) and you may be given priority with certain kinds of temporary lodging, etc.

    Many people go on Emergency Leave after being notified by the Red Cross of a family emergency that was reported to them as an effort to contact the servicemember. This happens more often when the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, etc. is assigned at an overseas location. But the Red Cross cannot authorize or approve this type of leave, that is always up to your chain of command.

    Convalescent Leave

    If you have a medical procedure, illness, or injury, your doctor may place you on a period of convalescent leave. This type of leave is strictly medical in nature and is not charged against your accrued leave balance.

    Your doctor has the ability to order you on such leave even if your chain of command does not wish to authorize leave–it is not the same as going on vacation and is viewed as a readiness issue.

    Maternity Leave/Parental Leave

    Those who are pregnant on active duty are authorized six weeks of convalescent leave which is essentially maternity leave. An additional six weeks of Primary Caregiver Leave may also be authorized, and a “non-birth parent” is permitted three weeks of Secondary Caregiver Leave.

    None of these leave options are considered “chargeable” and they are not deducted from the servicemember’s accrued leave balance. In most cases you may also be permitted to request ordinary leave at the time of childbirth. Whether you are allowed to do this is up to your chain of command, mission requirements may dictate shorter leave periods, etc.

    Terminal Leave

    While Terminal Leave sounds like a form of special leave, it is really just the act of using any remaining leave you have built up before you make the final transition from military service to civilian life.

    You can choose to sell this leave or use it–the chain of command must approve your terminal leave if you choose not to sell it back. The duration and timing of your terminal leave will depend on mission requirements and other variables, you will need to coordinate with your chain of command for specifics.


    About The AuthorJoe 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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