Pentagon Unveils New Parental Leave Policy After Delay Caused Uncertainty for Troops

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A U.S. Coast Guard Reserve member cradles his newborn son.
A U.S. Coast Guard Reserve member cradles his newborn son's feet in his hands during their first meeting at the San Diego International Airport, Dec. 12, 2012. ( U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Gawrelli)

The Pentagon's long-awaited parental leave policy for service members and their spouses was announced Wednesday, but doesn't apply to those troops who grew their families in the last year who already used all their leave while waiting for the guidance.

Both parents are now offered up to 12 weeks of leave after welcoming a new child, as well as any doctor-approved convalescent leave for the birth parent, according to the new policy.

But the policy falls flat for some military families. It's applicable only to those service members who gave birth or adopted a child on or after Dec. 27, 2022, meaning birth parents and caregivers who added a child to their families since Dec. 27, 2021, won't receive retroactive pay or additional leave time consistent with the new policy.

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That 2021 date is when the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law. It required that all of the services provide paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, and had until the end of 2022 to make the changes. While the Pentagon said the policy would be in place no later than Jan. 1, it was not publicly issued until Jan. 4, causing stress and worry for parents who were welcoming children into their families in the near future.

"The policy is now out," Pentagon spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz told Military.com on Wednesday. "The policy was signed on Dec. 29; however, due to the holidays, the release on the website was delayed."

There is a provision that may retroactively help some families. If a service member is on existing parental leave already, this new policy will add extra leave time as long as that leave did not run out last week. Those 12 weeks must be used within one year of the child's birth or adoption and apply to the birth parent as well as another caregiver, Dietz told Military.com.

Those who have unused parental leave as of Dec. 27, 2022, but haven't taken it yet will be eligible for the full 12 weeks as long as it falls within one year of the child's birth or adoption, Dietz explained.

Deployed service members typically defer their parental leave until their mission is complete, but "in exceptional and compelling circumstances," a unit commander may approve that time off and they'll be eligible to use the leave outside of the one-year period of the child's birth or adoption, according to the policy.

The delay in enacting the policy angered service members and spouses who have been patiently waiting for guidance as they plan for families in 2023, several told Military.com.

"My wife and I are due on Jan. 11," an active-duty Coast Guardsman told Military.com on the condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to speak to the media. "I'm certainly happy with the way the military is moving, and the work-life balance is improving and it's a step in the right direction. I'm grateful for the 21 days I get, but I think I unfairly built up this expectation when this policy was put into law and I thought it was a safe bet."

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.

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

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