Updated policy gives new military parents 12 weeks of paid leave

The policy standardizes leave for both ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ caregivers.

A newly announced Department of Defense policy gives members of the military who are new parents 12 weeks of parental leave.

The expansion applies to active-duty and Reserve members (on active duty for a year or more) who have given birth, adopted a child or had a child placed for adoption or long-term foster care with them.

“Birth parents” will be granted 12 weeks of parental leave following a period of convalescent leave and “non-birth parents” will be granted the same amount — 12 weeks following the birth of a child, the DOD said.

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Although the policy was announced Jan. 4, it was backdated until Dec. 27. The change was mandated in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

The policy is “designed to allow members to care for their children while balancing the needs of their unit,” the DOD said. Previously, parental leave to uniformed military members was based on whether the member was the “primary” or “secondary” caregiver. The primary caregiver received leave of six weeks, while the secondary caregiver got three weeks, according to the Association of the U.S. Army, a support organization for soldiers.

One hope is that the updated policy will help the military recruit and retain members.

“As the military services face a recruiting crisis, it’s necessary to look at all the contributing factors, including family quality-of-life issues,” said Jennifer Goodale, director of military family policy and spouse programs for the Military Officers Association of America or MOAA.

“MOAA is pleased to see DOD’s acknowledgement that family readiness is tied to military readiness. Allowing additional time for service members to bond with their children during a critical time, establish a new family routine and adjust to parenthood will have a positive impact on morale and readiness,” Goodale said.

“Parental leave is a quality-of life-issue, and it can influence a family’s decision to stay in or leave the military,” said Caitlin Hamon, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association.

“A child’s first year is a critical bonding time for every growing family, and standardizing the amount of paid leave to 12 weeks for both parents across the services is good for military families,” Hamon added. “It’s also good for the military, since these changes give the service member the flexibility to balance their family’s needs with the needs of their unit.”

“I’m extremely proud of the lasting impact this policy will have on all of our service members and their families,” Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in a statement to this news outlet. “The services worked hard to give as much as the law allowed, and I’m extremely proud of how fast our Department of the Air Force implemented (this) policy.”

Added Bass: “I assure our Airmen that there isn’t an issue they have, that our leaders aren’t thinking about.

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