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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Army will retroactively reimburse troops who paid their own way in the early days of the Rest and Recuperation program from the Middle East war zone.

An estimated 32,000 servicemembers who paid out of pocket for airline tickets between September and December on Central Command’s R&R program now can begin filing for full refunds, said Lt. Col. Bobbie Sanders, deputy chief of the R&R Task Force.

The Army’s Well-Being Office, which has responsibility over the R&R program, received final approval June 21 to begin reimbursing troops who paid for airline tickets to their final leave destination between Sept. 25, when the program started, and Dec. 19, when the Army got the go-ahead from the Pentagon to pick up the tab.

However, until Jan. 1, troops still had to pay upfront for their tickets and seek reimbursement from the Army.

The Army has been reimbursing those troops, Sanders said.

Tuesday, the Army announced it would begin reimbursing troops who paid for tickets between September and December, at an estimated cost of $13 million to $19 million, she said.

So far this fiscal year, the Army has spent $99 million on chartered flights to get troops out of the theater to the States, and another $3.9 million for the “Onward Travel” program, which flies them to their final destinations. Those final destinations do not have to be their home of record, and can be any place in the world, Sanders said.

Between Feb. 1 and June 14, the program suspended chartered flights because not enough of the newly transitioned troops were eligible for the program and paid for commercial airline tickets out of Kuwait to troops’ final destination at a total cost of $13.9 million, Sanders said.

Chartered flights resumed June 15, boosting the number of troops leaving daily from about 80 to 550 who leave on two flights a day, one bound for Atlanta, Ga., and a second for Dallas-Forth Worth. The Atlanta-bound flight stops in Germany to unload and pick up passengers bound for the States.

To get reimbursed, troops have to file DD Form 1351-2, downloadable from the Defense Finance and Accounting System Web site at www.dfas.mil/money/travel/travelforms.htm. Financial officers downrange also have the forms.

Accompanying that form must be copies of leave documentation, which vary per service, but which also are available online at that site.

Officials also would like participants to submit a copy of the airline ticket or airline ticket receipt if available.

Those who no longer have the documentation can still file for reimbursement by filing DD Form 1351-2 and including their name, Social Security number, leave dates, airline flown, final destination airport and cost of ticket.

For those who do not remember the cost of the airline ticket, they must contact Al-Shamel, the ticket agent within CENTCOM, or the airline itself to get copies of receipts. There might be a fee for that service.

Then, all documentation must be sent to:

DFAS-INContingency Travel OperationsDepartment 3900ATTN: R&R Leave8899 East 56th StreetIndianapolis, IN 46249-3900

It will take about four weeks to process the paperwork and mail out checks.

Under federal law, survivors of troops who took the leave and paid the bill can file for reimbursement, said Sheila Melton, an accountant with DFAS.

The executor or beneficiary must file the forms and documentation, she said.

Troops will be notified of the program by messages on their Leave and Earnings Statements, through the Army Knowledge Online e-mail system, and from messages the Army plans to send to those whom they know traveled home during that time period, Sanders said.

Troops have up to six years from when they leave the service to file for reimbursement.

Questions can be e-mailed to: DFAS-INR&RLEAVE@DFAS.MIL

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