Navy Compassionate Reassignment For Medical Reasons

I might be the first spouse to ever sue her husband’s commander in civil court. This is the story of  why.

My husband, Lt. Col Craig Perry, was fired from his job as a squadron commander, in part because of my key spouse initiatives. And I wasn’t going to sit by and watch.

When we found out that my husband had been selected to command a Basic Military Training (BMT) squadron at JBSA-Lackland, we knew it would be a challenging assignment after all the recent scandals. As it turned out, things were far more challenging than we imagined.

No one ever welcomed me to BMT – not a phone call, email, note, nothing. When I asked around, I realized that other squadron members also felt neglected. So I made it my personal mission to establish a key spouse program and really take care of these Airmen and their families. With no mentors at the group level to offer guidance, I simply learned as I went along based on feedback from the squadron.

We must have been doing something right, since the group commander asked us to brief Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Education and Training Command, on our key spouse initiatives. Shortly thereafter, the wing commander took me aside and personally thanked me for my efforts with the key spouse program, and for supporting my husband and making him a great commander. He told me he and his wife were praying for my health. Not long after that, one of our folks won Key Spouse of the Year for the entire wing.

So it came as quite a shock when my husband was removed from command the day after Christmas pending the results of a commander-directed investigation. Three months later, the wing commander fired him and gave him a career-ending letter of reprimand as punishment for the appearance of favoritism.

Wondering why Col. Perry would be fired for favoritism and fraternization? Read this.

Since Christmas, no one in my husband’s chain of command has ever checked on us -- not the first sergeant, not his boss, not the wing commander, not anyone.

Wing and group Leadership at Lackland recognizes that the key spouse initiative is supported by senior Air Force leaders, so they claim to care about their Airmen. Yet they are punishing my husband for the efforts he and I made to be engaged in the lives of his subordinates, and they abandoned us during our greatest time of need, knowing full well I was struggling with multiple serious illnesses. It was obvious to me that we had to take care of each other, because no one was going to help us.

So when I finally read the CDI report that resulted in my husband’s removal, I was flabbergasted. It was clear that they used my efforts and the key spouse initiatives as a pretext for firing my husband. But I should not have been surprised that they treated my husband like so many other Airmen at BMT: guilty until proven innocent.

That’s when we knew we had to take matters into our own hands. My husband did what he could through official military channels, with no result. So I stepped up.

We received an assignment to Barksdale AFB with less than six weeks to relocate. We had to make numerous life-altering decisions in a matter of days. We had just built a house in San Antonio, and I was very sick and only getting sicker with new complications which kept me from driving. We had to decide whether to retire, PCS, or stay and fight.

We decided to stay and fight.

Margaret Mitchell once wrote, "With enough courage, you can do without a reputation." We weighed the potential damage to my husband’s career versus the good it might do to shed light on the issues we were confronting. So when the media approached me about an exceptional commander who had apparently been fired without good cause, I was more than willing to answer a few questions about how my actions to take care of our Airmen had been used against him as evidence of favoritism.

But I wasn’t done yet. I decided to sue.

Nine months before she was set to retire, my husband’s commander began pressuring us to give her some of our wardrobe boxes, the kind of high-end moving supplies for which the military will not pay.   We thought it odd that she needed them so far in advance, but it later made sense when she removed him from command a month after taking our boxes. When we were notified of reassignment, I asked his boss to return the boxes, since it’s illegal for a government employee to accept or to coerce a gift from subordinate. And in any case I now needed them for the upcoming move she was forcing us to make!

She ignored my repeated requests, so I sued her in civil court.

I understand that my actions may seem petty or vindictive to some, but it's not about the money -- it’s the principle of the matter. I did it to shed light on a much larger problem: an environment where O-6s can punish Airmen of all ranks, enlisted and officers alike, on a whim and without justification, but where these same senior leaders can violate all sorts of rules and regulations and never suffer any consequences.

In the end, I was simply doing what was right – for our airmen and for our Air Force. And I'd do it all again.

EDITOR UPDATE: Since writing this post the boxes were returned. However, Caroline Perry does not plan to drop the suit until the boxes are inspected with witnesses and court costs and fees are settled.

Caroline Perry is the daughter of first generation immigrants and grew-up in a home with a heavy emphasis on education. She's worked in various high level executive, legal and compliance positions in Health Care for the last 15 years. As the victim of a serious federal crime and a series of life threatening medical issues, including cancer, she is no stranger to challenges. She met her husband, Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Perry, when she was 15-years-old, lost touch, and then reconnected. They married exactly 25 years after they met. With four dogs, one cat and a new home in San Antonio, Texas. She has never been happier and he is her definition of perfection. 

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Military Humanitarian or Compassionate Assignments

Requesting Assignments for Extreme Family Problems

It's an unfortunate truth that sometimes during a military career, a member may experience a severe family hardship which requires his/her presence to resolve, with circumstances which make resolving it with emergency leave impractical.

To help military members in such situations, each of the services has developed a program which allows military members to be re-assigned, or temporarily deferred from assignment, if they have a severe family hardship which absolutely requires their presence to resolve.

The Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard call this program Humanitarian Assignments. The Army calls their program Compassionate Assignments.

Exceptional Family Member Program

While not a component of Humanitarian/Compassionate Assignments, the Exceptional Family Member Program or EFMP warrants special mention. EFMP was developed to make sure military family members (dependents) with special needs (medical, educational, etc.), receive the special attention they require. A small part of this program is integrated into the military assignments system.

When a military member has dependents (spouse, son, daughter, step-son, step-daughter, etc.) with special needs, they are enrolled in EFMP. If the member is selected for an accompanied assignment, one of the first things that happen is the EFMP folks at the losing base contact the EFMP folks at the projected gaining base to determine if the dependent's special needs can be adequately addressed at the new location.

If not, the assignment is canceled. This ensures that military dependents are not forced to move to locations where their special needs cannot be adequately addressed, either by the military installation or in the local community.

EFMP does not restrict a member from doing his/her share of unaccompanied assignments, however, so they can still deploy.

The program merely makes sure that members aren't selected for an accompanied assignment to areas where their dependents would not get the special attention they require.

Humanitarian/Compassionate Reassignments

A Humanitarian Assignment is a special assignment authorized to alleviate a hardship so severe an emergency leave cannot fully resolve it. While each of the services has different procedures, there are some requirements which are common to all the branches.

To qualify for a Humanitarian Assignment consideration, a military member must have a documented and substantiated problem involving a family member, which is significantly more severe than other military members experience. "Family Member" is generally defined as spouse, child, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, person in loco parentis or other persons residing in the household who are dependent for over half of their financial support. In the Coast Guard, father-in-law, and mother-in-law do not qualify as family members for the purposes of Humanitarian Assignments.

The problem must be able to be resolved within a specific time-frame (six months to two years, depending on the branch of service). Military members are expected to be available for worldwide assignment, at all times, according to the needs of the service.

That's a large part of why they get a paycheck. For those who have a permanent or prolonged family problem which prevents reassignment, humanitarian discharge is generally the appropriate action.

The Comptroller General has ruled that the military services cannot fund an assignment relocation for humanitarian reasons only. That means there must be a valid slot at the gaining base for the person's rank and job. For example, the Air Force would not be able to reassign an F-15 Fighter Aircraft Mechanic to a base that does not have slots for F-15 Fighter Aircraft Mechanics. However, sometimes a service will allow a member to re-train into a different job, in order to fill a required slot at the Humanitarian Assignment Location.

Army Compassionate Action Requests

The Army calls their Humanitarian Assignment Program "Compassionate Action Requests." Compassionate actions are requests from individual soldiers when personal problems exist.

The two types of compassionate requests are when personal problems are:

  • Temporary (resolvable within a year).
  • Not expected to be resolved within a year.

A reassignment may be authorized when there are extreme family problems and the soldier's presence is needed. A soldier may get a deletion or deferment from an overseas assignment if the problem requires them to stay in the U.S. for a short time.

If the problem is chronic or can't be resolved in a short amount of time, a compassionate discharge procedure is generally the most appropriate action. Consideration for reassignment may be given in cases of extreme family problems that are not expected to be resolved within a year if it meets the needs of the Army.

Requests are made on DA Form 3739, Application for Assignment/Deletion/Deferment for Extreme Family Problems submitted through the chain of command. This must be done by the soldier.  Commanders can disapprove compassionate requests when they clearly do not meet the prerequisites. The Army Personnel Command has approval authority for compassionate reassignment. 

Criteria for Compassionate Action

  • The soldier needs to be present to resolve the problem, and it can't be done with leave.
  • The problem cannot have been foreseen when the soldier last entered active duty.
  • A family member includes spouse, child, parent, minor brother or sister, person in loco parentis, or the only living blood relative of the soldier. If not one of those people, they must be documented as a dependent or, in the case of parents-in-law, no other member of the spouse's family can help.
  • For reassignment, a job (MOS) of the correct rank must be available at the requested installation.
  • A pending assignment may be deferred until the request is decided. However, soldiers in basic training will not be deferred from AIT pending the results.
  • The problem must be temporary and resolvable within one year, although longer deferments are sometimes approved.

Examples of Requests That Are Normally Approved

  • Death, rape, or severe psychotic episode of your spouse or minor child.
  • Terminal illness of an immediate family member whose doctor documents they are expected to pass within 12 months.
  • Major surgery for spouse or minor child which will have 12 months or less of recovery time.
  • If you were separated from your family due to military service (not negligence or misconduct) and your children are being placed in foster care.
  • Adoption if the child is being placed within 90 days and the adoption was initiated before notification of reassignment.
  • Soldiers en route from an accompanied OCONUS tour to an unaccompanied OCONUS tour may be deferred for up to 30 days. The deferment is for settlement of family when the soldier's presence is required for unforeseen problems.
  • A recent death of other family members with extenuating circumstances.

Examples of Requests That Are Normally Not Approved

  • You want to move to a new area.
  • Divorce or separation and legal actions relating to it, including child custody.
  • Gaining child custody in a divorce.
  • Sole parenthood.
  • Spouse's difficult pregnancy.
  • Family member's allergies.
  • Housing problems.
  • Financial problems.
  • Chronic problems relating to parents or parents-in-law.

If a compassionate action request is disapproved, a soldier may only request reconsideration for the same family emergency one time. If that is disapproved, there will be no further reconsideration.

For complete details about the Army's Compassionate Assignments Program, see Army Regulation 614-200, Enlisted Assignments and Utilization Management, paragraph 5-8.

More Humanitarian Assignments


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