Military Humanitarian or Compassionate Assignments

Requesting Assignments for Extreme Family Circumstances

Soldier returning home on a compassionate assignment hugging his family in the front yard

MoMo Productions / Getty Images

It's an unfortunate truth that sometimes during a military career, a member may experience a severe family hardship which requires their 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 that allows military members to be re-assigned, or temporarily deferred from an assignment if they have a severe family hardship which 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 (EFMP) warrants special mention. EFMP was developed to make sure military family members (dependents) with special needs—medical, psychological, or educational—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, children, stepchildren, and other close family relations) with special needs, they are enrolled in EFMP. The dependent can have conditions such as asthma, attention deficit disorder (ADD), need inpatient care for more than six months, and many other difficulties.

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. It 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 their 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 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 that 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 member's situation. "Family Member" is generally defined as spouse, child, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, a 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 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 that 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, 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

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. It must be done by the soldier. Commanders can disapprove of Compassionate Requests when they do not meet the prerequisites. The Army Personnel Command has approval authority for a Compassionate Reassignment. 


  • 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, a 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 Approved Requests

  • Death, rape, or a 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 a 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
  • The recent death of other family members with extenuating circumstances

Examples of Denied Requests

  • The desire 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.