Troops Would Get 12 Weeks of Paid Parental Leave as Part of Defense Bill Deal

Senior Airman Cierra Benak, an aviation resource manager for the 437th Operations Support Squadron, plays with her daughter Charlotte at their home in Charleston, S.C.
Senior Airman Cierra Benak, an aviation resource manager for the 437th Operations Support Squadron, plays with her daughter Charlotte at their home in Charleston, S.C., March 13, 2020. (Senior Airman Jill Neufeld/U.S. Air Force photo)

By the end of next year, new military parents will be eligible for 12 weeks of family leave following the birth or adoption of a child, under the defense policy bill agreed to Tuesday by the House and Senate.

The $768.2 billion fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act will require the services to provide up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for military personnel who are designated as either the primary or secondary caregiver for a child.

This means that new military moms who also are the primary caregiver could receive 12 weeks of leave in addition to their six weeks of convalescent leave for a birth or adoption -- roughly four months to stay at home with a new child.

The legislation also will expand what was previously referred to as paternity leave, now known as secondary caregiver leave, to 12 weeks. That's an increase from as little as two weeks in some of the services.

The new benefit, to go into effect a year after the bill is signed into law by President Joe Biden, also will be available to those who enter into a long-term foster agreement for a child.

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According to the lawmakers who sponsored the original version of the bill, the provision brings the benefit in line with those offered by many other federal agencies and private companies and would help improve retention of service members.

"Parental leave for military service members is absurdly out of touch and outdated when compared to federal benefits and options provided by many private, large employers," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., when introducing the proposal in May with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

According to the bill, expected to pass the House and Senate this week, the leave would be authorized within the first year of birth, adoption or a foster placement but could be authorized, with permission, in circumstances of a deployment, military schooling or operational need.

Current regulations provide up to six weeks of maternity convalescent leave to new military moms and allow for an additional six weeks for the family's designated primary caregiver, to be taken at the caregiver's discretion.

Secondary caregivers now receive up to three weeks of leave in the Army and Air Force, and two weeks in the Navy and Marine Corps.

The new legislation also cuts women some slack on meeting their military branches' physical fitness requirements after childbirth.

It stipulates that female service members will be required to meet body composition standards or pass a physical fitness test within 12 months of giving birth "only with the approval of a health care provider," if it is necessary in the "interest of national security," and the service member agrees to it.

The bill also will standardize bereavement leave for service members in the event of the death of a spouse or child. Under the soon-to-be-signed law, service members will be allowed up to two weeks of leave. Members with fewer than 30 days' accrued leave would not have their leave docked; those with 30 days or more of available leave would be charged, but would not be left with less than 30 days.

The bereavement leave provision would go into effect 180 days after the bill becomes law.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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