There are TWO hurricanes headed to the Gulf Coast of the United States, and wildfires are burning across much of the west. Military bases are preparing. Many military families are wondering if they should evacuate, and when and if the military or their insurance company will help with expenses if they evacuate from the path of a hurricane or wildfire. There are some times when the military will pay families to evacuate a certain area ahead of a short-term potential disaster, and there are some times when insurance will pay for certain evacuation expenses. I’m going to hit these two topics in two big sections:
Military Evacuation Entitlements
Let’s start with the most important thing you need to know: The military will only pay evacuation expenses if the evacuation is ordered by the appropriate military leadership. Being ordered to evacuate by the local area authorities means that you should go, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the military will pay for it.
How Does The Process Work?
I’ve interviewed several spouses on this subject, and they all agree that instructions have been clear. The families are told when to leave and where they should go – generally a large town that is expected to be away from the path of the storm. This location is called the “safe haven.” You don’t have to go to the safe haven, but you generally won’t be reimbursed for excess expenses incurred by traveling further. For example, if your safe haven is Atlanta, and you go to New Orleans, you’ll be reimbursed mileage to Atlanta, not New Orleans. Not every evacuation order designates a safe haven, but most do.
The various commands will make announcements through a variety of methods. I’d expect to hear from my spouse, my family readiness group, the internet and social media.
What Kind Of Things Are Reimbursed?
You may be reimbursed for lodging, meals and incidentals, and the mileage to and from the safe haven location. In most cases, you will be authorized mileage.
Meals and Incidentals: Meals and Incidentals (M&I) are paid based upon the age of the person evacuated and the designated safe haven location. The full M&I rate is paid to each person aged 12 and over, and 50% of the M&I rate is paid to each person under age 12.
Lodging: Lodging will be 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. Lodging reimbursement requires receipts and you will not be paid in excess of the actual amount spent on lodging.
Mileage: In theory, you may be authorized mileage for one vehicle for each family member aged 16 and older. In reality, leave those extra cars at home to keep the traffic down and make it easier for everyone to evacuate.
Here’s an example of a family’s reimbursements, 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.”
Insurance Coverage For Emergency Evacuations
Many homeowners or renter’s insurance policies include certain coverage if you are unable to stay in your home due to an evacuation area as determined by local area authorities. Obviously, if you’re in current danger, you just need to go. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to read your policy and/or contact your insurance company and see if you have this coverage.
I checked with my friends at USAA, and here is their statement, “Homeowners and renter’s policies can vary state-to-state. We ask our members to review what’s covered in their policy or visit our mobile app, USAA.com or call directly for questions they may have.”
Please be aware that this may count as a claim against your policy, and may affect your renewals and rates in the future. I know of folks who have used this benefit and regretted it when their rates jumped in the future.
Preparing While You Are Waiting
It’s hard, sitting home and watching the weather reports. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do while you are waiting.
First, consider whether you want to go ahead and evacuate without waiting for an official order from the military. Your family’s safety is your responsibility, and the installation commanders are worried about the things happening on their installation. If you live off base, make your own decisions and do the smart and safe thing for you.
Then, be sure your branch, command, and family support team have your correct contact details, and let them know if you evacuate. Different branches have different names and programs and tools for this.
Other ways to be productive while you storm-watch:
- Charge all devices, especially ones that can provide light.
- Gather your important documents and put them in a zippered plastic bag. If you have time, make copies and upload them to Google Docs, Dropbox, or email them to yourself.
- Figure out what clothes you will pack if you need to leave, and wash them. Go ahead and pack if you’re in the path of the storm.
- Review your disaster supplies kit and see if anything needs 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.
Relief Societies Stand By To Help
Things are a little different right now due to COVID, but the branch relief societies are always available to help. If you need to evacuate, and are in a bind, please reach out to your branch relief society or the American Red Cross.
If you’d like to read more, this information was compiled from:
The Joint Travel Regulations, Chapter 6
Do you want to know more about your military pay and benefits?
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