Defense Bill Sets Up New Maternity Uniform Loan Program for Pregnant Troops

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Stacey Butler (right) a clothing designer with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Air Force Uniform Office, measures Capt. Taylor Harrison's maternity Airman Battle Uniform. ( U.S. Air Force/Brian Brackens)
Stacey Butler (right) a clothing designer with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Air Force Uniform Office, measures Capt. Taylor Harrison's maternity Airman Battle Uniform. ( U.S. Air Force/Brian Brackens)

Soon-to-be moms in the military could receive free loaner maternity uniforms if next year’s defense policy bill becomes law.

In the final version of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act released last week, lawmakers are pushing the Defense Department to conduct a pilot program to issue maternity uniforms and related items to pregnant military members on a temporary and as-needed basis.

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According to language in the proposed legislation, the Defense Logistics Agency -- which issues uniforms and gear to the armed services -- will coordinate with each service secretary to analyze what items pregnant servicewomen need, as well as how many should be issued to each.

The secretaries can establish an office where women can turn in items that are no longer needed to be cleaned or repaired before the uniforms are reissued to other expectant mothers, the bill states.

The bill also orders that the maternity uniforms not be treated with insecticide chemicals such as Permethrin. While Permethrin is considered relatively safe for pregnant women, it’s only advised for use in pregnancy when the benefits outweigh the risks.

One of the goals of the pilot program, the lawmakers said, is to study whether having the right uniforms readily available allows women to do their jobs more effectively while pregnant.

The NDAA would require each service to issue a report on its findings no later than Sept. 30, 2025. Lawmakers want recommendations from leaders, descriptions of the program's successes and failures, and a determination on whether it should be extended past its planned end date of 2026.

The analysis would show, among other things, whether the program increased costs or saved taxpayer dollars, and how it differs from the cost of "providing allowances to members for purchasing such items" on their own, according to the bill.

The military services have made a number of recent policy changes designed to better retain female service members and enable them to work effectively.

The Air Force launched a project in 2019 focused on gathering female perspectives to provide better uniforms, including maternity uniforms, flight suits and body armour.

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein launched the initiative to redesign female uniforms after many years of ill-fitting equipment. The effort has also been supported by the Department of the Air Force's Barrier Analysis Working Group within the Women's Initiative Team, which has been instrumental in encouraging change for outdated or restrictive policies.

The military as a whole is responding to increased numbers of women in the ranks with improved dress and appearance practices.

According to an October USA Today report, women make up about 21% of the Air Force; 20.2% of the Navy; 15.4% of the Army; and 9% of the Marine Corps.

The House passed the NDAA this week; the Senate is expected to vote on it Thursday.

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill over Section 230, which shields tech and communication communication companies from some liability over user activity. The bill also moves to strip Confederate leader names from 10 American military bases, a change that Trump has repeatedly objected to and threatened to block.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Military Leaders Are Confronting a New Form of Discrimination: Pregnancy Bias

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