Army extends more benefits to reservists on overseas tours as lawsuit over housing allowances continues
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 21, 2020
STUTTGART, Germany — The Army will allow reservists to serve two-year overseas assignments and ship their household belongings, in hopes of easing the financial burden on soldiers who in some cases have been reprimanded, indebted and forced into litigation over benefit disputes with the service.
“This significant policy adjustment eliminates the military entitlements inequity between unaccompanied active component and (reserve component) Soldiers by authorizing full household goods and shipment of privately owned vehicle,” the Army said in a memo outlining the shift.
Extending tour lengths up to 24 months, rather than the typical one-year assignment, “ensures equity, provides greater entitlements to RC Soldiers, provides predictability for Soldiers, reduces administrative burden for commanders, and efficiently utilizes Army resources,” the memo stated.
Previously, permanent change of station entitlements weren’t offered to unaccompanied reservists “due to many factors, one being the traditional tour length of one year or less,” U.S. Army Europe and Africa said in a statement Friday.
The Nov. 9 Army memo, recently provided to Stars and Stripes, came in response to a request from USAREUR-AF Gen. Christopher Cavoli that the Army expand housing allowance benefits for reservists.
Cavoli asked the Army to consider providing reservists with an allowance for their residence in the U.S. and an overseas allowance when housing is unavailable on post.
The issue has been a major point of contention for many reservists, who have tried to keep up with mortgage payments at home while away from their civilian jobs, and also paying rent near their assigned duty stations.
The Army said it was unable to meet Cavoli’s specific request for the dual housing allowance but did not offer a clear answer why in its memorandum.
One factor could be an ongoing federal lawsuit, in which a group of Army reservists say they were wrongly denied housing allowances and faced improper criminal investigations when the Army suddenly cut off their overseas housing allowances.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2018, accuses the Army of “gross negligence” by denying benefits it should have paid.
Patrick Hughes of the Washington-based Patriots Law Group said the Army’s decision to now extend PCS benefits for reservists on two-year tours doesn’t solve the underling housing benefit question.
However, the policy change does amount to a concession by the Army that it has been “imposing upon its RC soldiers a financial hardship for these several years,” Hughes said.
“Rather than addressing that issue head-on, possibly because the Army faces our litigation on the matter, they created this workaround to extend RC soldiers’ tours, thereby allowing similar entitlements to those in the Active component … I believe this memo creates strong additional support for our lawsuit,” Hughes said.
For several years, reservists deployed to Europe on unaccompanied tours received both allowances to make up for not being able to work in civilian jobs that pay their rents and mortgages. But in 2016, the dual allowance payments ended abruptly without explanation.
Scores of soldiers were snared in subsequent probes and were accused of fraudulently receiving payments.
The Army in Europe said granting PCS benefits to reservists on 24-month tours “significantly reduces the financial burden” for soldiers who in some cases won't need to maintain two households or place their belongings in storage.