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Defense Department civilian workers overseas who were told last week they were receiving housing benefits by mistake and would lose them immediately appear to have been given a reprieve, according to military officials in Europe.

Last week, more than 500 Defense Department employees in Europe and the Pacific were notified that they were erroneously given Living Quarters Allowances — a benefit that subsidizes rental and utility costs — and would have to apply for a special waiver to avoid being indebted to the government for all past allowances received.

While many of those workers were granted one-year extensions during which they would continue to receive living quarters allowances while they looked for alternative employment or living arrangements, others were told they did not qualify for the one-year grace period.

But that changed late Friday, according to Army and Air Force officials in Europe.

“[Lt. Gen.] Donald Campbell received word late Friday that ALL personnel who received erroneous living quarters allowances payment notifications will be granted the one year grace period,” U.S. Army Europe spokesman Bruce Anderson wrote in an e-mail, referring to the commander of USAREUR. “Details will follow. Though we haven’t reached full resolution yet, this will provide some immediate relief.”

The reason for the change was not immediately clear.

Campbell and other senior leaders continue to work the issue, Anderson said.

Although the one-year extension appears to apply to all affected employees, they still must apply for a waiver to avoid having to reimburse the government what they have been paid until now in error.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe officials put out a similar message to employees via Facebook, saying the commander of USAFE had “received very positive news last night indicating those team members who recently received notification they were in receipt of living quarters allowances erroneously, through no fault of their own, will likely be granted a one-year extension.”

“Furthermore, we believe each of our 68 affected employees are eligible to submit a waiver of indebtedness for erroneous payments. While we must still work the details, we are optimistic this will buy time for appropriate planning and employee placement while ensuring our employees do not suffer a financial hardship,” the message on USAFE’s Facebook page stated.

In January, the Defense Department said that it intended to grant debt relief waivers to employees who received housing allowances in error, although those workers would have to apply individually for the waivers.

Altogether, 481 Army civilians in the European and Pacific theaters were told last week that they were receiving thousands of dollars a year in error. Of those, 175 were initially told they’d be ineligible for a one-year extension of their living quarters allowances, which can add up to $50,000 per year in some cases to an employee’s paycheck. In the case of USAFE, 17 of its 68 affected workers didn’t initially qualify for the one-year extension.

The errors were found during a DOD-wide audit prompted by a widespread misinterpretation of a regulation that governs eligibility for housing and other allowances.

vandiver.john@stripes.comTwitter: @john_vandiver Twitter: @mattmillham

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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