I often get questions about people who are considering a geographic bachelor tour, and wondering about their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and their finances. Geographic bachelor (or “geo-bach”) is the unofficial, slang term used when a military family chooses to have the family live in a different location from the service member. The term does not apply when the military makes the decision to separate the family, such as when a service member has orders to a location that is not currently able to support family members.
For starters, remember that BAH is almost always based upon duty station for regular Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves. From the DefenseTravel.mil website:
The policy decision to use duty location as a basis for BAH is based on the desire to compensate members for the typical housing cost near the member’s duty location. Once the duty station is known, the BAH compensation is fixed, regardless of where the member lives. Were the member’s residence location to be used as a basis for the allowance, there is the concern that this would cause a member to choose the residence location based on BAH. In some cases, this may lead to a member choosing to live further from the duty station, simply to receive higher BAH. In other cases, when a member commutes from/to a lower cost area, the members would find the BAH to be lower, even though the commuting expenses are higher. The Services decided to base the allowance on the duty location with the full knowledge that members would still be free to live where they choose, but that this decision would not affect the BAH amount.
Geographically separated families (geographic bachelors) are normally eligible for BAH based on the member’s duty station. Each Service budgets for support of a certain number of members and families at each location. If a growing number of people decide to leave their families in Washington, or Tampa while the member PCSs to Mt Home or Ft. Hood that could skew the budget and service support planning for these locations. Also, a fundamental philosophy of military service is that members, with their families, create a better work environment and esprit de corps when they can be active participants in the local base and community.
In years past, the services provided various levels of financial and organization support to geographic bachelors. Several year ago, all five services have stopped offering free barracks space to geographic bachelors. At this time, a rare few bases with excess rooms will let married members occupy either for free or at a cost. Charges can vary, but average around $25 to $30 per day. Those service members will also be required to vacate the barracks whenever asked, possibly with minimal notice.
Of course, there are always exceptions. From the same Defense Travel website,
In certain circumstances, with specific approval of the Secretary of the Service concerned, a member may be granted an exception to receive BAH based on the dependent’s location. For example if a member has a sick child that requires medical attention only available in a certain location (say Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC), and the member receives a PCS order, the member might leave the family in Washington and request BAH eligibility for that location. Such exceptions do not ordinarily apply to spousal employment or other personal choices.
Unusual orders can also result in BAH for the family’s location. For example, when my husband was stationed out of Norfolk, but physically in Africa, he received BAH for my family’s actual location because his orders fell under a particular designation that did not require us to PCS to Norfolk.
When considering geographic bachelor-ing, assume that the service member will receive BAH for their duty location and that the family will be supporting two households on their regular income. The service member can then choose to seek housing on-base, get an apartment or share house, or buy an RV to live in.
Geographic bacheloring is rarely the economical choice, but there are times when a military family feels it is their best option. Be sure you understand it thoroughly before making the decision.