Emergency leave: Do you know what to do?

by Master Sgt. Lora Bright
Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe Staff Judge Advocate

You may find yourself wondering why a master sergeant from the Staff Judge Advocate’s Office is writing about emergency leave. After all, I am not a subject matter expert on the topic. After a recent situation within my office, I wanted to share some valuable information that may help if you ever find yourself in an unfortunate situation and need to get home in a hurry. Emergency leave is an entitlement I hope you never need to use, but if you do need it, here’s some information that may be helpful to you.

Emergency leave is chargeable leave granted for personal or family emergencies involving your immediate family or that of your spouse. Specifically included are parents (and stepparents), children, siblings, sole surviving blood relatives, or anyone who served in-loco-parentis.

What does in-loco-parentis mean to you? This covers individuals who stood in place of a member’s parent(s) for a period of at least five years before the member became 21 years of age or entered military service and provided a home, food, clothing, medical care, and other necessities, and gave moral, disciplinary guidance, and affection. Did a grandparent raise you? If so, you might be eligible for emergency leave to travel home if they have a situation that requires your presence.

Who do you contact in the event of an emergency? Call your supervisor and first sergeant immediately. Also, request your family members back home get in touch with the American Red Cross right away to verify the emergency and provide critical information to decision makers. Early contact with these people will ensure you get home as soon as possible.
What if you’re TDY when a tragedy occurs? Thankfully, first sergeants are just about everywhere. Find one, tell them you need help and I guarantee you will get immediate assistance.

We all know living overseas can be expensive and unexpected trips can drain bank accounts. Here’s the good news: In a verified emergency leave situation, the Air Force will pay to get you and your family back home. The Joint Federal Travel Regulation authorizes funding for emergency travel for military members and/or their dependents. Space-required government transportation must be used if reasonably available, but you may also work through your local SATO office for assistance. After normal duty hours, call the 24-hour hotline.

Even if you don’t meet the technical requirements to be considered for emergency leave, it is possible to
elevate your priority for Space-A travel.

“Unit commanders can make a determination for a travel category upgrade and send a request letter to the passenger terminal. This can bump a member to a priority higher than those members on ordinary leave,” said Staff Sgt. Keith Booze, NCOIC of Personnel Actions for Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
Please note, this “bump in priority” is only effective for the flight out; it has no impact on priority for the returning flight.

Did you know Department of Defense civilian workers may also potentially be entitled to emergency leave travel?
“Depending on their contract and status, civilians or their spouses may be eligible and should contact the Civilian Personnel Office for more information,” Booze said.

Regardless of the individual relationship, when you learn of a life-threatening situation or death of a family member and you need to go home, you should immediately contact your supervisor and first sergeant. They are armed with the tools to help determine emergency leave eligibility and the steps required to get you home as quickly as possible.