New Benefit Pays for Troops, Civilian Employees to Ship Breast Milk While on Official Travel

A lactation room on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.
A lactation room inside the 4th Security Forces Squadron headquarters building on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, June 7, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly Barrera)

Active-duty military women and civilian Defense Department employees now can be reimbursed for shipping breast milk while on official travel, according to a recent change to the Joint Travel Regulations.

DoD officials announced April 14 that nursing mothers may be reimbursed up to $1,000 as a travel accommodation during temporary duty of more than three days.

As of April 7 -- the date the policy was approved -- covered expenses will include commercial shipping fees, excess baggage, storage bags or containers, cold shipping packages, refrigeration and transport, according to a memo from Joel Ridenour, chief of the Pentagon's Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Committee.

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According to the Department of the Air Force, the benefit was driven by the service's Women's Initiative Team, which saw the out-of-pocket expense as a barrier for lactating moms who relocate or go on temporary duty within a year after childbirth.

According to Air Force Maj. Samantha Sliney, the team's co-lead, the group has been working for more than two years to obtain the benefit.

"This change is a huge step and great benefit for lactating uniformed service members and DoD civilian employees," Sliney said in an Air Force news release. "Members can be provided the necessary support to continue accomplishing the mission while meeting the demands of parenthood."

The Coast Guard -- the only armed service outside the Department of Defense -- has been offering the benefit since June 2019 under a reimbursement program supported by Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a nonprofit organization that provides financial support and emergency relief to the service's members and their families.

The Coast Guard's program pays up to $750 a year per household for shipping and is available to active-duty personnel; Public Health Service officers and Navy chaplains detailed to the Coast Guard; reserve members on active-duty status; spouses on business travel; and Coast Guard civilian employees.

Under that program, Coast Guard personnel must be away from home on temporary duty, deployment, traveling on official business or have an excused absence to be eligible for reimbursement.

In their release, Air Force officials noted that their Women's Initiative Team also worked to ensure that units had dedicated areas in workplaces to make certain that mothers can pump breast milk in private, and supervisors are to guarantee that personnel get 15 to 30 minutes every three to four hours to pump breast milk, up to a year after childbirth.

"Parents experience a myriad of issues when returning to work after giving birth to include the delicate balance between providing nutrition for their child while answering the demands of their job," Sliney said in the press release. "This critical change enables all Department of Defense service members and civilian employees to serve to their full potential during all phases of life."

The change is scheduled to appear in the Joint Travel Regulations on May 1. Affected service members and employees can file for reimbursement under the category of travel accommodation for a special need.

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

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