In addition to canceling training and postponing permanent change-of-station moves, the Defense Department’s March 12 stop-movement order threatened to eat up precious vacation time for service members, as canceled leave and restrictions on anything but local travel has grounded many troops.

But as it’s looking more and more like the coronavirus pandemic will be keeping America at home into the summer, DoD has decided to relax its restrictions on accumulating vacation days.

“Leave is vital to the continued health and welfare of our service members and civilian workforce and is key to the secretary of defense’s first priority in responding to COVID-19 ― protecting our service members," Matthew Donovan, the defense under secretary for personnel and readiness, wrote in a Thursday memo.

The new policy, backdated to March 11, allows troops to accumulate more than the standard 60 days of leave ― though no more than 120 ― through September 30. They will have until Sept. 30, 2023 to use up that excess leave, Donovan added.

“Commanders will continue to encourage and to provide members with the opportunity to use their leave in the year in which it is earned,” Donovan wrote.

The issue of accrued leave can come up multiple times during virtual town halls with senior Pentagon leadership in recent weeks.

“We want to make sure that our service members do not lose that entitlement,” Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chief Ramon Colon-Lopez, said April 9.

Though the original travel ban was due to expire May 12, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Tuesday that it will be modified and extended.

“While I understand the impact this has on our troops and their families this is a necessary measure to keep our people safe and our military ready to act,” Esper said.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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