DTS for Dummies Part 3: Either way, I get paid

Tech. Sgt. William Estremera and Senior Airman Xin Miao, both from the  111th Comptroller Flight, roast fake money that represents more than $300,000 in unclaimed travels vouchers since 2013 owed to 111th Attack Wing members at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pa., Oct. 13, 2016. For the approximately 800-member wing, the amount owed to members equated to around $100,000 per year or $375 for each Guardsmen. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Chris Botzum)

Tech. Sgt. William Estremera and Senior Airman Xin Miao, both from the 111th Comptroller Flight, roast fake money that represents more than $300,000 in unclaimed travels vouchers since 2013 owed to 111th Attack Wing members at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pa., Oct. 13, 2016. For the approximately 800-member wing, the amount owed to members equated to around $100,000 per year or $375 for each Guardsman. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Chris Botzum)

.HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- Editor's Note: This is the final segment of a three-part commentary series about navigating through the Defense Travel System. In this installment, the author -- who now considers herself the oracle for all things DTS -- concentrates on how to maximize your overall DTS experience with some final tips.

So far, this series has covered the two main functions of the Defense Travel System (DTS): How to create an authorization and a travel voucher. If you've been following along, then perhaps you've learned a thing or two. Feasibly, you could use this series as a reference when staring down a screen of DTS jargon, confidently clicking yourself to a seamlessly-submitted filing.

If you haven't read any of these commentaries, then that's okay. I get paid either way.

If that sounds harsh, here's another harsh reality: Since 2013, there is more than $300,000 in unclaimed travel vouchers owed to members of the 111th Attack Wing here right now. That's around $100,000 per year or $375 for each Guardsman of an approximately 800-member wing.

The gap between money paid out to members and money owed to members will only widen. That is, unless you take control of your bank roll and increase your DTS expertise. Using this series might help.

To get you up to speed, click DTS for Dummies Part 1 and then  DTS for Dummies Part 2 on the official Air National Guard website. Once you know the basics, we can address some specific hang-ups that members may face. By changing your financial floundering to fiscal follow through, you just might compound your coinage.

Here's why your travel voucher is going to get kicked back

"Missing documents, like orders and missing receipts, make up 99 percent of all returned vouchers," said Tech. Sgt. William Estremera, 111th Comptroller Flight financial management technician. "But another big one is the member having the wrong or no line of accounting (LOA) selected."

According to Master Sgt. Jeff Davis, 111th CPTF quality assurance manager, the LOA on DTS essentially indicates who is footing the bill. By and large, this information should be available on the member's Air National Guard Reserve Order Writing System (AROWS) order as the workday utilization code (WUC) for Guard and Reserve Airmen. At times, it can be a bit confusing, but it takes a small effort to call your friendly comptroller flight and ask what to choose for the LOA.

LOA codes are found in the dropdown menu on DTS. For example, enlisted members doing annual training in fiscal year 2017 would choose 17 AT RSD ENL. For an officer, it would be 17 AT RSD OFF.

There's a caveat, of course, if a member is going to another unit who will be the financially responsible organization. In that case, the member will choose an option from the cross-organization dropdown menu. More on this topic to come.

Rental cars can chauffeur voucher changes

In a perfect world, the authorization should be created and approved in a manner that requires the member to simply upload supporting documents, add the taxes and fees then submit the voucher.

"The authorization is what you think is going to happen, and the voucher is what actually happened," said Estremera. "So, if there is a huge discrepancy between the two, you probably shouldn't try to tackle that by yourself."

One area that the 111th CPFT here notices significant inconsistencies is with rental cars.

"When you book your rental car through DTS, it's going to figure out the expected cost," Estremera said. "But when you return the car and your receipt reflects something totally different, then you have to do some work."

That work includes removing the rental car off of the voucher and claiming it as a non-mileage expense.

Hint: Don't forget to upload the rental car receipt into the substantiating documents with your orders, hotel receipt and airfare receipt, if applicable.

DTS overpayment: Not the end of the world, but still a pain

Using the above scenario, if a member submits a voucher and claims the rental car as a non-mileage expense, but forgets to remove the rental car that was booked through DTS, they could receive a DTS overpayment.

There is no joy found in owing the government money, but this can be even more arduous when it comes to DTS repayment. Repaying through DTS differs from rectifying an overpayment of military pay.

"The military pay debts are established in house, so we can kick start the transaction to recoup military pay debt outlined by our collection rules," said Estremera. "Now, DTS debts are paid through pay.gov. Automatic payroll deduction through DTS isn't really an option."

Estremera said that the member and their finance office receive an email from pay.gov  outlining the options for repayment. It's an autonomous process in which the member must take care of the debt themselves. The email outlines where the discrepancy was found and how to repair it. Normally, this requires the member to amend the original voucher and remove the duplicate cost or miscalculation.

Essentially, the error that caused the overpayment necessitates a complete reboot of the DTS process, with the added merriment of negotiating a repayment plan.

Hint: This is why it is imperative to double check that the authorization and the voucher jive before submitting that voucher.

No blame game in the approval chain

It's easy to see that there are a lot of eyes on your authorization and your voucher before it reaches the DTS deities. But is it always the same people? Yes and no, said Davis.

"The approval chain will be the same for both your authorization and voucher," said Davis. "The difference is that the group of people in that chain depends upon the member's LOA."

Remember that LOA? Again, this is who is reimbursing you, so they need to ensure that what you are planning to claim, and what you actually claim, is legit. This means the folks paying you might disagree about forking over cash to cover the kennel fees for your poor puppy, Buster.

"If you are going on [annual tour] or special training through wing headquarters, it'll go through your resource advisor and then through us as long as you're using the wing's line of accounting," said Davis. "But, on the other hand, if you're going to a school, then it goes through the force support squadron."

Another example is if a member is going on temporary duty (TDY) to a different unit and that unit is paying for the trip. The traveler needs to contact the paying unit's organizational defense travel administrator (ODTA) who then places the service member's social security number into their LOA. Like stated above, the member would then select the cross-organization LOA in their authorization, meaning an organization other than the member's own is responsible for footing the bill.

Approval fail or return

Estremera wanted members to know, "...If you get an email or a DTS status update that your document approval failed, all that means is that the line of accounting is out of money. I have to contact Sergeant Davis to load that amount of money to that LOA so that I can approve it."

He reiterated that if a member's document stated the approval failed, it has nothing to do with the member or the authorization. The member does not and cannot do anything to that document until the money is allotted to the LOA via the comptroller flight. Eventually, once funds have been allocated, the member will receive the email stating that the document had been stamped as approved.

Now, a returned document is different. This requires work on the member's part. Estremera said that for a returned document, the member needs to go to the signature page and read the notes explaining what needs to be resolved for the document to be approved.

"There is a 100-percent guarantee that you will have notes as to why it was returned and how you need to go about readdressing it," he said.

Hint: Don't freak out over an approval fail; the comptroller flight will handle it, so just chill. A return, on the other hand, requires the member to read the notes and resolve the issues.

When we used to say, "Just put in on your travel voucher."

I've been in the military long enough to remember a time when we used to claim many random expenses on a travel voucher. It's not to say those expenses are no longer valid in completing the mission, but it's fair to say that if it's not affordable on your per diem, it's coming out of your personal money. Per Estremera and Davis, some of the common items they see members try to claim are groceries, tailoring, laundry and dry cleaning costs.

Who made these changes? Well, don't go charging down to your comptroller flight demanding answers to why Buster's kennel fee is not reimbursable. DTS conducts their own audits that are beyond the control of individual wing comptroller flights.

"This comes from DTS, not us," said Estremera. "We don't have the say in what is reimbursable, we just want you to get paid."

Yes, both Davis and Estremera want members to get paid. But in the end, it's not their job to get the members their money.

"If you don't want to take the time to learn DTS and do it correctly to get your own money, then it's on you," said Estremera. "I encourage people to come down to the finance office if they need help, especially with vouchers from years ago - it takes five to six minutes if we help you."

Or, wing members can choose to avoid the DTS process altogether. But Estremera doesn't think that's a great idea.

"People come to the counter or the computers [in the finance office] complaining and griping about getting their money. If you don't want it, then don't do it. Continue to do stuff for the government at your own expense; see how far that gets you."

In the end, through the sometimes puzzling DTS process, members have complete control in obtaining the legitimate travel money that they earned. Whether or not you've read this commentary series to help you obtain your travel money is fine, too.

I know that I'm getting paid. Are you?