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How can people defend against claims that they went AWOL?

On Behalf of | Sep 5, 2023 | Military Law

The decision to join the military means making a multi-year commitment in most cases. People give up their right to outside employment or even to control their schedule. The military tells them where they live and when they work. Most active-duty servicemembers eventually adjust to the rigorous oversight provided by the chain of command, but some people struggle with having their movements and behaviors overseen and controlled by the military.

Occasionally, due to personal issues or simply confusion about the schedule, someone serving in the military could find themselves accused of being absent without leave (AWOL). Not only can going AWOL potentially affect someone’s future opportunities in the military, but being AWOL could also lead to military punishment. Possible penalties include forfeiture of pay, confinement and possibly discharge. How can someone potentially defend against claims that they were absent without leave?

Prove that they followed protocol

Perhaps there was an error on someone else’s part. Establishing that someone did attempt to follow the right procedures could help prove they had no intent to violate military rules. Particularly in scenarios where someone needs sudden, unexpected leave, such as when they have an emergency or lose a family member, there could be mistakes made in the process of providing notice or requesting leave that puts someone in a vulnerable position should the person that they communicate with fail to follow up on the matter.

Establish a medical explanation

One of the most reasonable explanations for why someone would be absent from their military job without leave or communication with the chain of command would be that they experienced some kind of medical emergency. Maybe they got into a car crash while visiting family off-base, or perhaps they suffered a head injury while hiking and remained unconscious at a medical facility for days. In some cases where someone’s absence persists for 30 days or longer, they may end up facing much more serious accusations of desertion.

The sooner someone corrects an inappropriate absence and discusses the matter at length with those familiar with military rules, the better their chances of avoiding the worst possible consequences associated with an unpermitted absence from service.