Adjusting personal travel arrangements to accommodate new orders or deployment-related family needs can be complex and time-consuming, but it doesn't need to break the budget.
To assist military personnel on R&R, Congressman C.A. Ruppersberger has established Operation Hero Miles. Operation Hero Miles provides a clearinghouse for individuals wishing to donate their unused frequent flyer miles to DoD to help troops travel home. This reduces the need for military personnel to purchase high-priced, last minute airfares to cover the cost of their domestic travel.
According to information posted on the site: "In general, soldiers should check with their command for ticket eligibility. Unfortunately, many more soldiers need tickets than are available, so tickets will usually be made available to those with the greatest need or the most severe financial burden, or at random."
Many airlines will waive the penalties associated with reservation changes made in response to military requirements. Some offer reduced fares to family members and caregivers traveling as a result of their military sponsor's deployment. Several airlines offer special assistance programs to family members of military personnel injured or killed in the military action in Iraq. However, in order to qualify for waivers or special fares, the service member will need to provide a hard copy document or printed email to verify that the changes are made in response to military requirements. On a happier note, U.S. Airways, several resorts, hotels, theme parks and cruise lines recently introduced special deals and bargains for active duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel and their immediate families.
In addition, the Department of Defense provides a travel entitlement for service members and their families in serious medical emergencies. Those not covered under this rule should get in touch with the Fisher House Foundation, which provides free round-trip airline tickets to permit qualifying military personnel to visit their homes, and family members and close friends to visit military medical centers.
Requests for these tickets must originate with the service member, and must be made at the medical center. (Click here for a eligibility information and a printer friendly copy of the request form.) Requests should be sent by fax to the Fisher House Foundation (301) 294-8562. Additional information on this program can be found on DefenseLink.
AMTRAK, the nation's largest passenger railway follows a liberal ticket refund policy for most canceled trips. In addition, all refund fees will be waived if the service member presents documentation showing that the change in plans was the result of military orders.
The cost of making short-fuse reservations on AMTRAK varies according to the route. AMTRAK recommends military personnel and their families check with their local ticket representative or call 1 (800) USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245) for details and special offers.
In those cases where the carrier does not waive fees or penalties, the Army Emergency Relief Society, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the Air Force Aid Society can provide loans or grants to cover unexpected expenses. The relief societies suggest military personnel requiring emergency financial assistance of this nature call or visit the relief society office at the nearest military installation. All three organizations have reciprocal agreements with each other and the Coast Guard, so it doesn't matter which field office a service member uses. In the absence of a military installation, the American Red Cross and the USO can connect military personnel with their respective organizations.
The relief societies consider all requests for emergency financial aid from active duty military personnel and family members, and National Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty and their family members on a case-by-case basis. The societies' first priority is the timely return of the service member to his or her duty station. However, the societies' mission and funding permit the relief societies to respond to almost any emergency.