Feature   Defense News

Empowering Flexibility, Broad Discretion and Addressing Concerns

April 24, 2020 | BY NAVY LT. KRISTI ESCO

A hallmark of the nation's commitment to its military is the promise of providing for service members and their families while they are sacrificing so much to protect the American people and their way of life. Today, the military continues to act as the bulwark of our security while battling a simultaneous silent threat to their own health and wellness.

Multiple personnel in hospital scrubs confer with each other in a medical facility.
Hospital Ship
Sailors aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort confer in the ship's intensive care unit, April 15, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Bigley
VIRIN: 200415-N-LL146-1059M

Effectively mitigating the spread of COVID-19 requires new customs such as working remotely, restricting movement and social distancing. These are challenges all Americans face, but the added difficulties and arduous nature of military service adds to the complexities for service members. These adjustments have unintentionally created questions about some pay and benefits for military members.

The Defense Department has heard these challenges and the many questions about how the men and women of the military will be compensated during this crisis. Over the last several weeks, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs has issued military personnel guidance and further supplemental guidance addressing special policies and procedures implemented to ensure continuing financial security for our members and their families, and guidance on use of leave.  

The unprecedented measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 require us to change some of our normal business rules and flex our policies where that is warranted. Specifically, this military personnel guidance addresses concerns such as how members can continue receiving Special and Incentive Pays if their duties are severely restricted, Basic Allowance for Housing when a change of duty station is interrupted, how to compensate members for the hardships associated with being ordered into Restriction of Movement, and how members can continue receiving Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage if their pay is interrupted.

Special Pays
Special and Incentive Pays document.
Photo By: OSDPA
VIRIN: 200424-D-ZZ999-9004
Impact of Travel
Impact of Travel document.
Photo By: OSDPA
VIRIN: 200424-D-ZZ999-9002
Hardship Duty Pay
Hardship duty pay document.
Photo By: OSDPA
VIRIN: 200424-D-ZZ999-9001
Servicemembers' Insurance
Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance document.
Photo By: OSDPA
VIRIN: 200424-D-ZZ999-9003

It also discusses how reservists and National Guard members can perform training periods, called drills, in the midst of travel restrictions, among many other topics.   

Many highly-skilled members receive special or incentive pays for their incredible and challenging jobs, such as divers and airborne troops. While under orders to restrict movements, the department will continue paying these incentives, even if these troops are unable to meet their monthly minimum dives or jumps, or any of the requirements of some of the other special and incentive pays.

DOD officials recognize that it is not feasible to perform these duties during this time of crisis, and so, these policy exceptions will allow members to receive their expected compensation.

Masked soldier talks on a cellphone at a desk.
Masked Call
Army Capt. Maya Nabors, a medical detachment representative assigned to the Maryland Army National Guard Medical Detachment, conducts an initial assessment by telephone at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation in Reisterstown, Md., with a nursing home facility to proactively support the Maryland Department of Health in the state's COVID-19 mitigation and suppression efforts, April 8, 2020.
Photo By: Army 1st Lt. Jennifer Alston, Maryland Army National Guard
VIRIN: 200408-A-UT495-711M
Sailors wearing hard hats and face masks work in a line on a tent.
Tent Team
Sailors assemble a tent during construction of a 150-bed expeditionary medical facility at Naval Base Guam, April 20, 2020, to provide expanded medical capabilities in support of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response.
Photo By: Navy Chief Petty Officer Matthew R. White
VIRIN: 200420-N-WR252-1076Y

While many reservists and National Guard members are being called up to support the response to COVID-19, many are also being asked to change their regular routines. Social distancing is impractical during typical training and drills. To combat this new reality, commanders are empowered to exercise more flexibility and may use broader discretion in employment practices, such as telework and work from alternate locations. The secretary of defense has given commanders the authorities needed to take the necessary precautions, while also ensuring service members are trained and ready to defend the nation.  

More than ever before, flexibility is paramount for reservists and National Guard members. However, even with more flexibility, there will still be reservists and National Guard members who will not be able to drill, even remotely, due to unforeseen circumstances. In these cases, members may have questions about whether their SGLI insurance coverage will continue even if they are not drilling and getting paid.

It is important to note that members will not lose their life insurance coverage if they were unable to drill or perform training due to COVID-19. Coverage will continue, and those missed premiums will only be deducted when the member returns to a pay status.

Doctors, nurses and medics from the Florida National Guard joined Florida International University at the Miami Beach Convention Center to conduct training in preparation to staff the center in the event it is needed in response to COVID-19.
Group Training
Doctors, nurses and medics from the Florida National Guard joined Florida International University at the Miami Beach Convention Center to conduct training in preparation to staff the center in the event it is needed in response to COVID-19. Federal, state and local partnerships are coming together to combat the COVID-19 virus.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Leia Tascarini, Florida Army National Guard
VIRIN: 200418-A-UN364-060M
A seaman wearing hospital scrubs and a face mask puts on a pair of gloves.
Hospital Help
Navy Seaman Kalil Haynesworth puts on nitrile gloves aboard the USNS Mercy in Los Angeles, April 17, 2020. The Mercy deployed in support of the nation's COVID-19 response, and serves as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals. This allows shore-based hospitals to focus their efforts on COVID-19 cases.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Luke Cunningham
VIRIN: 200417-N-LW757-1007

Another significant issue is how to ensure members do not lose their accrued leave if they are unable to use it between now and the end of the year. Normally, service members can carry over only 60 days of leave from one fiscal year to the next, but this could be a problem for those who are engaged in the fight against COVID-19 or are unable to go on leave due to the travel restrictions. To protect them from losing their well-earned leave, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness signed a special memorandum authorizing what is called special leave accrual. This authority will let service members carry over leave up to 120 days.

Everyone has been affected by COVID-19. For every service member, their first point of contact should be their chain of command to find out more information concerning pay and personnel policies. Departmentwide guidance on the response to COVID-19, including military personnel guidance, can be found on the department's coronavirus Spotlight page. This same information, as well as additional financial counseling resources can also be found on Military OneSource

To effectively minimize risk and remain unified as challenges arise, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs will continue to work closely with the rest of the Defense Department, other federal agencies, and state and local governments to provide updated information. The department remains committed to responding to this pandemic on the frontlines of that battle while prioritizing protecting troops, DOD civilians and their families.

(Navy Lt. Kristi Esco is assigned to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.)