Meal Reimbursement for Military Reservist Annual Tour TDY

After 2 years of appeals, the DOHA Claims Appeal Board denied my request for reconsideration of a travel expense while doing duty as a military Reservist. I was asking for M&IE reimbursement when TDY meals were not available at no-cost. For a Reserve military member, the Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR U7150(C)(1)(a)) says “There is no authority for per diem for a ‘Members performing AT when both government quarters (other than temporary lodging facilities) and a government dining facility/mess are available.’”

DOHA obliquely agrees with the disparities I pointed out in my appeal, suggesting that I should try to change the JFTR in order to make it right. Sadly, the correction is not about changing the JFTR but simply interpreting the current JFTR correctly.

It’s all about interpreting the word “available.” If DOHA would simply interpret the existing JFTR correctly, all their intellect impugning conclusions would be gone!  Three examples below.

  1. Read the quoted sentence above and realize it talks about lodging and meals–in the same sentence, with one use of the world “available.”  This word should not be interpreted two different ways!  The current DOHA interpretation of “available quarters” means government provided FREE quarters (after reimbursement if there was a cost), while “available meals” includes meals SOLD at a chow hall without reimbursed. The disparity would be gone if they would interpret the single word “available” as “free” for both parts of the sentence.  DOHA dismissed this point, saying simply, “This is an argument that has been raised before” in B-152420 48 Comp Gen 517 (1968) without any statement of what the ruling was.  Actually, that ruling was all about distinguishing what “away from home” meant.  It had nothing to do with justifying why the same word in the same sentence should be read two different ways.  In fact, it supports my position!  It directs that orders may not, “deny payment of per diem to a member of a Reserve component performing annual active duty for training … unless the member does not incur quarters and subsistence costs.”
  2. DOHA is perpetuating disparity for Reserve members and Active Duty (AD) members, in direct violation of written direction which is suppose to be binding on their decision. Presently, while on a TDY active duty tour away from home, AD members are paid M&IE while also receiving BAS. Reserve members on a TDY active duty annual tour away from home are not paid M&IE while also receiving BAS.  I cited a Comptroller General ruling that there should be no disparity in how AD and Reserve are paid, but DOHA referenced a present-day verbal opinion they received over the phone from one government employee.   The written intent of the Comptroller General addresses the issue with greater authority:  “The purpose and intent of [public law] is to permit the payment of per diem to Reservists ordered from their home … in cases where per diem would be payable to members on continuous active duty.” and Public Law is, “designed to provide the same entitlements to all military personnel in the mater of per diem eligibility when the circumstances are essentially the same.”
  3. Changing their interpretation would remove DOHA’s disagreement with the Comptroller General in another way. The Undersecretary of the Navy asked for clarification on this issue in 1968. The Comptroller General explained that Reserve members were not to be paid M&IE when meals were provided “without charge” (search and find both instances of that phrase with your web browser).  Without charge means free. DOHA did not respond to this citation when I offered it.

It’s worth noting that half of the problem is the order writing bureaucracy, which writes on orders that “meals are available” even if they are not available for free. At least DOHA had an appeal process. On the order writing side, nobody has been able to tell me what person or office actually creates the AFMAN 34-102 meals availability list and who has ensured consistent interpretation of “available.”  In other words, any individual military base can fill out their capability report saying, “meals are available at this base” simply because they have a Burger King retail outlet on base, while at the same time, someone else reads the list and interprets the word “available” differently. There is no integrity across the bureaucracy defining the word “available”.

If you come across this issue during your military work, I would be happy to help you draft a concise appeal.  Eventually, one would think DOHA would see the light and read the existing JFTR correctly.

{Update – The JFTR used to be for military and the JTR used to be for civilians. Now both are controlled by rules in the new JTR with separate appendices that cover differences.

Update 21 Sep 2015 – Air Force Reserve policy (not regulation and not statutory) was released via email expanding this denial.  Now, there will be no missed meals authorization on annual tours.  It says, “this change is in accordance with JTR,” but does not give any reference.  }

About Brian

Engineer. Aviator. Educator. Scientist.
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