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Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Sept. 19, 2008 –
When Hurricane Ike made landfall on the Texas coast, it left behind damaged and destroyed buildings, massive flooding, and thousands of residents without power or, in many cases, without homes. For many of those affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters, it can be a time of uncertainty. But for some National Guard members, assistance is available if a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes.
The Safe Haven program offers financial compensation to Guard members on Title 10 or Title 32 active duty status who must evacuate an area because of a natural disaster.
“Safe Haven provides for a National Guard or an active duty member or a federal employee to be compensated for their relocation to a safe haven,” said Blaine Coffey, chief of Personnel Readiness and Compensation at the National Guard Bureau. That compensation, Coffey said, covers transportation expenses to a safe area as well as expenses to return to the Guard member’s home or duty station.
Additionally, Guard members are eligible for compensation at the full per diem rate, which includes lodging, meals and incidental expenses, for up to 30 days. They may be compensated for up to 180 days, but the daily per diem rate drops to 60 percent after the first 30 days.
Before a Guard member can take advantage of the benefit, however, an evacuation order must be issued in writing by federal or local officials. “It’s incumbent upon the competent authority to declare your duty station or quarters to be uninhabitable,” Coffey said.
Additional limitations apply to what qualifies as a safe haven location. One limitation is that if the Guard member elects to stay with family or friends, that individual does not qualify for lodging expenses, Coffey noted.
The Safe Haven entitlement grew out of an older benefit intended for those in embassies and other overseas locations. “It was more associated with embassies and locales that in many, many cases had to be evacuated based upon the threat to life or limb of the members,” Coffey explained, “not from natural disasters necessarily, but that of actual armed conflict.”
That began to change when Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Florida in 1992. “When there had been major incidents in the United States back in the early ’90s, beginning with the evacuation of Homestead Air Force Base [because of Hurricane Andrew], DoD began to look in more detail at the authority for entitlements of the active component member and his or her family to be evacuated from an installation like Homestead,” said Coffey.
Hurricane Katrina changed the way the law affected Guard members. “We had a number of Guard members in two major brigades in Mississippi and Louisiana that were on Title 10 orders. So they were active duty members having their homes destroyed, having their duty locations destroyed – whether it be Jackson Barracks or any number of installations in Louisiana,” Coffey said.
While soldiers on Title 10 orders were covered by Safe Haven, those on Title 32 orders were not. That changed with Hurricane Katrina.
“What we did during Katrina and Rita was to get an exception to policy waiver authority to include Title 32 members for eligibility for Safe Haven benefits,” Coffey said. “At the same time, we recognized that Katrina was not isolated. We are going to continue to have this potential issue.”
The authority to have similar benefits apply if a similar disaster occurred was put into place, and recently the law was changed to include Title 32 Guard members.
The number of people who have taken advantage of the Safe Haven benefits during recent hurricanes has been low. “Within the Guard at this point, the numbers aren’t tremendously large, but during Katrina, it was close to 1,000 members,” Coffey said. “You had so many Title 10 mobilized soldiers returning, and many of them were given the option to stay on duty. That was part of the ‘soft landing’ that we tried to formulate for the soldiers.”
Those who believe they may be eligible for benefits under Safe Haven should contact their state’s joint forces headquarters personnel office.
(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)