That long-awaited trip may have fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic, but the leave days now have a better chance of surviving the year-end deadline.

That long-awaited trip may have fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic, but the leave days now have a better chance of surviving the year-end deadline. (U.S. Navy)

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will allow its active-duty troops to keep up to 120 days of personal leave at the end of September as travel restrictions in place amid the coronavirus pandemic have largely kept service members from using vacation days.

"The department's actions to stem the spread of [the] coronavirus disease … to include restricting travel, has significantly limited the ability of service members to take leave during this national emergency,” Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, wrote Thursday in a memorandum announcing the change. “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 [the coronavirus] ― protecting our service members, [Defense Department] civilians and their families.”

Typically, service members can accrue up to 60 days of leave through the end of the fiscal year and they lose any additional leave that they had not used. The new order covers all service members who served on active-duty between March 11 and Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal year. Troops will have until Sept. 23, 2023 to use the excess leave before it expires, Donovan wrote.

Troops have been largely locked in place since Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued his first stop-movement order March 16 for the United States, which barred official travel including permanent-change-of-station moves. On March 25, the defense secretary extended those restrictions to all overseas personnel.

Esper on Tuesday said those restrictions would be extended past their initial May 11 expiration date, but he has yet to announce a new date to end the stop-movement orders aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. Several senior defense officials have indicated the outbreak could last in the United States well into the summer.

The use of leave has been a hot-button issue for troops and their family members in online town hall meetings conducted at the Pentagon and local installations. Many of them stated through social media that they were forced to cancel long-planned vacations, especially around Spring Break. Some people expressed concerns they would be forced to abandon even more vacation plans if travel restrictions stretch into the summer.

Senior officials said last week that the department was working on the issue, but it had not been addressed officially until Thursday.

In his memo, Donovan wrote that service members should continue to try to take vacations, once restrictions are lifted.

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

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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