ARLINGTON, Va. — Troops serving at least nine months in Iraq and Afghanistan can now take 15 days off without burning up their leave, according to the Defense Department.

The new policy becomes effective on Tuesday. In a statement, Sam Retherford, director of officer and enlisted personnel management, called the move “an additional benefit specifically for those servicemembers deployed to the most arduous combat areas.”

Currently troops who take rest and recuperation leave in Iraq or Afghanistan must use their accumulated vacation time. Troops accrue leave based on how long they have been in the service, meaning junior servicemembers don’t have much leave to use, department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

By giving long-deployed troops the extra 15 days off during their deployment, servicemembers will have more time to spend with their families once they return home, Lainez said in an e-mail.

Rules for taking R&R will not change under the new policy. While commanders do their best to allow troops leave, “combat mission requirements take precedence” over taking any time off, Lainez said.

Under department rules, combatant commanders can request that the program be expanded to other areas beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, but those countries must be designated combat zones where troops are exposed to “the most arduous conditions.”

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