With Hurricane Harvey last week, and Hurricane Irma worrying folks all across the East Coast, it's a perfect time to talk about when and how the military may pay travel expenses if you are instructed to evacuate.
Many folks have questions about when and how the military might reimburse for evacuations. I've pulled together information from the Joint Travel Regulations (it has a whole chapter on evacuations), the Defense Travel website, various service instructions, plus interviewed a few folks who have been ordered to evacuate for past situations. I learned a lot - hopefully you will, too! Note: This article speaks specifically to evacuations from locations within the Continental United States (CONUS) for limited duration events like a storm.
First things first: the military will not pay for any evacuation expenses unless it is ordered by the appropriate military authorities. If you choose to leave without a military order, you will not be reimbursed for any expenses incurred until such an order is given. An evacuation order given by local civilian authorities will not qualify you for reimbursement. However, you don't have to wait for the military to tell you to evacuate. You may always evacuate at your own expense, at any time. I'm a worrier - I'd rather leave and have nothing happen than be stuck with my family in a disaster.
Please keep in mind that ultimately, the safety of your family is up to you. Any actions that the military may or may not take does not impact your personal responsibility to take care of yourself.
Who Is Eligible for Military Compensation for An Evacuation?In order to be compensated for the expenses incurred when leaving an area due to a situation like a storm, the local military authorities must officially order the evacuation.
Coast Guard wife Kelsey Ramirez was told to evacuate when Hurricane Matthew was headed towards her area. Her advice: "You can evacuate early, which I recommend, and if they call the order - save your receipts (which you should do just in case they call it.)"
How Will You Know An Evacuation Has Been Ordered?The spouses with whom I spoke all agreed that communication was very clear during an evacuation.
Brooke Goldberg has been ordered to evacuated twice! She told me, "it was made clear that I could leave and where I was allowed to go in order to receive reimbursement."
Where Can You Go?An evacuation order can include a designated "safe haven" location or a distance which you can travel. If a specific location is designated, this is the location for which reimbursements will be paid. You may not be required to go to this safe haven, but expenses that exceed the costs of evacuating to the safe haven will not be reimbursed.
The various instructions vary in how they present this safe haven option. Some make it seem mandatory that a safe haven is designated, others are less specific. Please pay attention to what your specific command or installation says if they make an order to evacuate.
I'm thinking that if Hampton Roads is evacuated, they won't be able to designate a single place - where could take that many people? This is just my opinion - they may designate a place. To the best of my knowledge, Hampton Roads has never been given an evacuation order, so there is no historical precedent for this.
What Will Be Reimbursed?You will be reimbursed for mileage, lodging, and meals and incidentals. If a safe haven location is designated, your reimbursements will not exceed the costs at the designated safe haven location.
You may be authorized mileage for one vehicle per family member aged 16 or older. However, it is recommended that you take as few cars as possible to lessen the gridlock on the roads. Mileage is paid at a flat rate based upon the distance from your duty station to the safe haven location, if one is designated.
Each evacuated person aged 12 and over receives meals and incidentals at 100% of the published rate for the safe haven location; those under age 12 receive 50% of the meals and incidentals rate.
Lodging is reimbursed up to the authorized rate for the safe haven location, if one is designated, or the authorized rate for the actual location, if no location is designated. Lodging rate are authorized for each family member over the age of 12, with those under the age of 12 eligible for up to 50% of the lodging amount. Lodging is not reimbursed if you stay with friends or family. You must save all lodging receipts for reimbursement.
An example taken from the NonCombatant Evacuation Operations Quick Reference Guide for Army Personnel and DA Civilians:
"Family Members: Spouse, 14 year old, and 9 year old Per Diem rate: lodging $100 per day and M&IE $50 per day Family gets hotel suite for daily rate of $175"
"For lodging, the spouse in our example is authorized $100 per day, first child $100 per day and second child $50 per day which equals $250 per day, but that is more than what she is paying for the hotel room. Therefore the spouse will be reimbursed for the actual cost of the lodging which is $175 per day.
For M&IE, the spouse is authorized $50, first child $50, and second child $25 totaling $125. The family receives the entire amount."I have to admit, this seems like a lot of reimbursement to me, but I've verified it from three different sources. Please let me know ASAP if you know this to be wrong.
In general, it's important to remember that your local military leadership has a detailed plan for how this all works out. If your location may be affected, you will be notified.
What Can You Do In The Meantime?If you're sitting on the East Coast, watching Hurricane Irma, there are several things you can do to prepare for the possibility of an evacuation. You want to be ready to go as soon as you decide it is time, and not be scrambling around packing a car at the last minute.
The most important thing to do: Be sure your contact information is up-to-date on all official records, and that the individual command and its family support team has your details. Brooke Goldberg's final advice to me: "Definitely keep track of correspondence with your unit - as a key spouse, I saw so many spouses dismiss options for contact with their servicemember's unit, but in emergencies, it was very helpful."
Other ways to be productive while you storm-watch:
- Gather your important documents and put them in a waterproof bag. Make a home inventory, or update your existing one.
- Get your laundry done, and have an idea of what you might pack.
- Review your emergency kit and see what items need to be replaced or refilled.
- Have a plan where you might go. Keep in mind that you may be joining many other people being evacuated - roads will be crowded, hotels may be full.
- Be sure your car is ready to travel: full of gas, maintenance up-to-date, tires in good shape.
- Do what you need to do for your particular house and location. At the very least, bring in outside furniture. There are many excellent "to do" lists available on the internet.
While we can't predict when and where an emergency situation will occur, we can be prepared with knowledge and physical readiness. If you are worried about a situation, take steps to be prepared and keep yourself safe. While the military may provide guidance, and financial support in some situations, the ultimate responsibility is yours.
If you'd like to read more, this information was compiled from:
The Joint Travel Regulations, Chapter 6