By Buddy Blouin
Starting a family isn’t easy for anyone, and for those with a military career, things can become dicey quickly. The stigma of men needing time off and additional stigmas surrounding women balancing work and child-rearing are outdated and inappropriate at best. But thanks to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), 12-week military parental leave is coming to the U.S. military. While not all branches have the 12 weeks parental leave military program in place just yet, the Pentagon is adamant that it will be in place by its deadline: January 1, 2023.

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2022 NDAA Military Parental Leave

To dissect the entirety of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act would likely take several lawyers and a lot of time. But what’s important here is that part of the bill would establish military 12-week parental leave for those serving in the American Armed Forces. This means that both the birth parent and non-birth parent will receive medical leave after the birth, adoption, or long-term fostering of a child within that service member’s household. This leave doesn’t count against a troop’s other leave allowances, as it is non-chargeable. Despite this move created to help families, it’s getting late in 2022, and not every military branch has implemented everything it needs to. But this issue is not something the Pentagon sees as a problem, as it insists the deadline will be met. "The DoD is currently working on finalizing the DoD parental leave program policy that we fully intend to deliver on time. Shouldn't be too much longer,” said Major Charlie Dietz, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Department of Defense. As military personnel await this change, there's still a lot to be discovered. For example, current expecting parents are curious as to how things will work with the deadline so close. So far, it’s clear to see that processes are still incomplete, leaving these families in limbo. “The policy is still under development, so they have not decided if it will be retroactive,” said Dietz. When the DoD published a policy on Reserve Component Military Leave in June 2023 forcing branches to allow mothers paid authorized absences in lieu of inactive duty for training, the policy was not retroactive. This left mothers who had children between January 1, 2021, and June 8, 2022, with unpaid military parental leave and no accrual of retirement points for those weekends.

Improving Upon Previous Policies

The movement to increase paid maternity leave for military households who are starting families is a growing movement supported by many groups. Bipartisan and bicameral groups are urging the DoD to give military moms the leave they deserve, and now it looks like this will become a reality. As of this writing, regulations for military parental leave give qualifying members as much as six weeks of maternity recovery leave for new birth parents and an additional six weeks for the family's primary caregiver, which is chosen by each home accordingly. The parent who was not involved in giving birth, secondary caregivers or non-birth parents, would receive as much as three weeks if they are in the U.S. Army or Air Force but only two weeks if they are in the Navy or Marine Corps. These new measures are helping improve the military by modernizing it through progressive policies. This includes making accommodations for women and minorities. Specifically, previous policies were seen to have negatively affected Black service members, and these new measures should help rectify such issues. But the military community as a whole is sure to benefit from the new military 12-week parental leave allowance.

12-Week Military Parental Leave Is a New Beginning

Military parental leave in 2023 is going to look a lot different, and the U.S. military is better for it. Looking at a timeline of paid family leave in an ideal world, parents would have six months off each. While this isn’t exactly the recommended, desired mark, it still elevates the time for new families in regard to both partners and for various demographics. The key now is for the Pentagon to continue to do its job in holding up its promise for 12-week military parental leave as the deadline soon approaches.

Jan 2023 Update

The Pentagon has made good on its promise for a new military parental leave policy. On January 4, 2023, they announced that the 12 weeks of parental leave is officially active. Both the birth parent and non-birth parent are eligible for 12 weeks of military parental leave, and the birth parent is also entitled to any doctor-mandated convalescent leave. There's one dark mark for this policy, though. Any parents who grew their families within the last year and used all existing leave before the new policy was officially active will not be eligible for any extra leave under the new ruling. It only applies to families who gave birth or adopted a child on or after December 27, 2022. If they gave birth or adopted a kid before that date, they are not eligible for any retroactive leave time or pay as parents under the new policy would receive. This isn't the best news for all families, but hopefully, the new military parental leave policy will start to pave the way for more rights for growing military families and help them maintain more of a balance between their professional and personal lives.

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