It can be challenging to be the parent or spouse of an active-duty servicemember, particularly when they deploy overseas. There are always "what if" scenarios playing in your head, and you probably answer each phone call with some hesitation. Your son, daughter, or spouse has trained to do their job, and they will do it well.
Unfortunately, sometimes they are injured or killed in the line of duty. Because of this, it's crucial for every next of kin of an active-duty servicemember to know what to expect, as well as their rights as defined in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Here's what you need to know.
Next of Kin
When a servicemember designates a next of kin in writing during their pre-deployment in-processing, they are essentially giving that person the authority to care for them and act on their behalf in case anything happens. Being authorized as their next of kin will help you when you request leave from your employer under the FMLA law. Your name will be listed in their medical records and documentation as their next of kin. You or your employer can request for your servicemember's health care provider to fill out WH-385.
Invitational Travel Orders
It's likely that your servicemember's permanent duty station is not near your home. In the event of a serious injury, very serious injury, or death, your servicemember's chain of command will expedite the notification to you and provide you with an Invitational Travel Order.
You'll be given instructions telephonically on how to use this order to book travel arrangements that will be free of charge to you. Hotel arrangements and food will also be provided to you free of charge. You can also use the Invitational Travel Order as proof that you need to take leave from work under FMLA.
26 Workweeks of Leave
You are authorized up to 26 workweeks of unpaid leave. If you have accrued paid leave days, you may want to go ahead and use your accrued paid leave first, depending on your financial situation. FMLA is used to protect your job, but it is still unpaid leave. However, keep in mind that you won't have to pay for travel, a hotel, or food.
If you experience any problems with your employer not wanting to give you time off from work when you are requested by the military to attend to your duties as the next of kin of a servicemember, contact an FMLA lawyer who specializes in the Family and Medical Leave Act for help.