12-Week Military Parental Leave Benefit Will Be in Place by January

Senior airman Cierra Benak plays with her daughter.
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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jill Neufeld)

All military parents will be eligible for 12 weeks of family leave following the birth or adoption of a child under a new policy set to take effect no later than Jan. 1.

Signed into law last December, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act required that all of the services provide paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, giving the military branches until the end of this year to make the changes. While not all of the services have those policies in place today, they will meet that deadline, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.

"The DoD is currently working on finalizing the DoD parental leave program policy that we fully intend to deliver on time," the spokesman, Maj. Charlie Dietz, told Military.com. "Shouldn't be too much longer!"

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The policy change means that all service members are eligible for 12 weeks of leave for the birth, adoption or long-term fostering of a child. That leave will be non-chargeable, meaning it doesn't count against other leave allowances.

Birth mothers will still be eligible for maternity convalescent leave, as well as the parental leave.

Previous regulations provided up to six weeks of maternity convalescent leave to new military moms and allowed for an additional six weeks for the family's primary caregiver, to be taken at their discretion.

Secondary caregivers, meaning the non-birthing parent, previously received up to three weeks of leave in the Army and Air Force, and two weeks in the Navy and Marine Corps.

The changes come at a time where the military, as a whole, has instituted more progressive policies to make service more accommodating for women, families and service members who are racial minorities -- ranging from creating nursing rooms on military bases to more welcoming beard waivers for medical conditions predominantly affecting Black service members.

When a separate bill was proposed in 2021 that began the legislative process leading to the change, lawmakers said the provision was needed to modernize the military's leave policy to make it similar to federal agencies, as well as large corporate employers.

"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," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said when introducing the proposal in May 2021 alongside Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

This past June, Military.com reported that the Defense Department published a policy on Reserve Component Military Leave, ordering the service branches to allow mothers paid authorized absences in lieu of inactive duty for training, also known as IDT, for the equivalent of three weekends.

The reserve policy went into effect June 9 but was not retroactive, Military.com reported.

Moms who gave birth between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 8, 2022, were left with unpaid maternity leave and no accrual of retirement points for those weekends.

It's not yet clear whether the Department of Defense's paternal leave policies will be retroactive for military families who gave birth to or adopted and fostered children since the 2022 NDAA was passed.

"Until the policy is set, we do not know if there will be any related retroactive pay," Dietz told Military.com.

-- Patricia Kime contributed to this report,

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: New Reserve Maternity Leave Policy Issued by Pentagon 18 Months After Congressional Order

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