Judge Advocate Tells Troops to Foot the Bill for Losses of Pre-Paid
Travel Expenses if they are Recalled from Leave Because of
Kosovo Emergency

April 7, 1999

Comment: #256


[1] Email FW: "Cost Associated With Leave Cancellation/Recall," From: 52AMDS/CC Command Section, Sent: Wednesday, April 07, 1999 11:22 AM. Attached.

I received the email below from an NCO in Korea who received from a friend who is a USAF Capt in Germany.

It says that if the troops get recalled from leave for the current Kosovo emergency, they have to foot the bill to get back themselves. Expenses incurred by changing pre-paid airline tickets, canceling pre-paid tour packages, etc., will NOT be reimbursed by the Government. The enclosed EMAIL is the official opinion of a USAF JAG Officer on the matter.

The NCO said, "It probably never would have occurred to me to ask for reimbursement, but some people have apparently tried."

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


-----Original Message-----

From:52AMDS/CC Command Section
Sent:  Wednesday, April 07, 1999 11:22 AM
To:52AMDS/All Personnel
Subject: FW: Cost Associated With Leave Cancellation/Recall

This is a little long but may be worth reading; bottom line is not reimbursement for expenses incurred if required to return to duty off leave or due to not being allowed to take leave. You know, paid for airline tickets and now I can't use them or I have to spend $50 to change schedule. Can't get that money back through military channels.


Subject: Cost Associated With Leave Cancellation/Recall

My staff and I have received a great number of telephone and e-mail inquiries asking whether a military member may file a claim for reimbursement if he or she incurs an expense (e.g., cancellation or itinerary-change fee) as the result of either being recalled from leave or having their leave canceled because of current world events. This usually results when the member has already signed up and paid for a tour package, or when they've purchased the less expensive airline tickets that don't allow the member to make changes to their flight itinerary (or only allow changes for, usually, a $50 fee).

Military legal offices can only pay those claims Congress has authorized us to pay through legislation. We are authorized to pay (and collect) certain claims involving, for the most part, damage to government property, personal property if the damage or loss is incident to official duty (e.g., TDY and PCS shipment, but not if pursuant to leave status), and personal injuries sustained. Unfortunately, there is no statutory authority to reimburse a member who incurs an additional cost related to their leave. Congress considers this to be a personal expense and has not authorized the United States to reimburse anyone, even when the expense is incurred because leave plans were cancelled to respond to a national security crisis. In fact, the Air Force Instructions under which we administer our claims program details this type expense as one we are specifically prohibited from reimbursing under the programs we administer. There are some who have suggested that during Desert Shield/Storm we paid such claims. I was on active duty during that time and my leave was cancelled then. I remember the airlines waiving the fees and working with troops in this situation as a goodwill gesture. Though I was at a numbered air force and not at the wing level at that time, I don't remember any legal office paying such claims (though I was likely too focused on the military operation at hand to be concerned over personal monetary issues). For that reason, I checked with the claims experts at AF/JA who were working there during Desert Shield/Storm. They confirmed that there is not now, nor was there then, statutory authority to pay such claims.

Because this seems to relate to more a travel reimbursement issue (albeit leisure travel), I also discussed this with Lt Col Newcome who, not surprisingly, confirmed that there is likewise no authorization under the Joint Federal Travel Regulations to reimburse such expenses as a travel claim through the Accounting and Finance Office.

I have two suggestions:

1. Though this first suggestion will not help anyone who has already purchased airline tickets, if your leave plans do include airline travel and you want to hedge against the possibility of leave cancellation or recall, purchase tickets that allow you to change your itinerary without incurring a penalty. These tickets are quite a bit more expensive than the "cheap seats" I usually reserve, but think of the additional cost as a sort of travel insurance. By purchasing these lower-priced tickets, I have in essence assumed a risk--that of being recalled from leave or having my leave cancelled. Frankly, it may be less expensive overall to simply accept that risk and pay the $50 if my leave is cancelled. And, yes, I realize that this does not help those who have already paid for one of the bus tours.

2. My second suggestion, and one that may have some success, is for the commander to write a letter to the airlines or tour company for individuals in this situation explaining the circumstances. For those who have to cancel their trips, ask the airline or tour company to offer the individuals the option of rescheduling the trip later (after the current crisis passes). For those who are currently on leave and must be recalled, thereby incurring an additional cost to reschedule their flights, ask the airline to waive the $50 fee normally imposed. Appeal to their patriotism and, if that fails, the companies' goodwill in the PR advantage they will gain. This worked during Desert Storm/Shield, as I recall.

I'm sorry I can't give you a more favorable response but, again, Congress authorizes what we may pay and under what circumstances. There is no authorization from Congress to pay such claims.

Karl A. Kaszuba

Staff Judge Advocate, 86th Airlift Wing