The Defense Department issued a new policy to provide 12 weeks of paid, non-chargeable parental leave to service members who have a child through birth, adoption or a long-term foster care placement of at least 24 months.
These 12 weeks of parental leave, which became effective Dec. 27, come in addition to authorized convalescent leave for service members who give birth.
"This initiative supports the well-being and work-life balance of our military families," according to a DOD press release on March 22.
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón Colón-López said DOD is taking action based on feedback from service members.
"As we receive feedback from our force, we continue to take immediate actions to answer their needs as they stand poised to answer their nation's call. This is one of many initiatives the department will continue to address, and it will not be the last. Our people deserve the best care to ensure they and their families are resilient in the conduct of our mission," he said.
According to DOD guidance, active-duty service members and Reserve members on active duty for more than 12 consecutive months are covered by the new policy.
Convalescent leave may be authorized for recovery of the birth parent if such leave is specifically recommended, in writing, by the health care provider of the birth parent to address a diagnosed medical condition and is approved by the birth parent's unit commander. The length of the convalescent leave is no longer prescribed in the parental leave policy and will be determined on an individual basis, according to the guidance.
Birth parents may take 12 weeks of parental leave after they complete the period of convalescent leave, the guidance states.
Parental leave — not convalescent leave — may be taken in multiple, nonconsecutive increments of at least one week, subject to command approval and mission requirements. Previously, parental leave was to be taken in a single, continuous increment.
Parental leave must be used within one year of a qualifying event or by the date of separation from active duty, whichever occurs first. The new policy creates occasions for exceptions to this limitation, such as when attending in-residence professional military education for a consecutive period of 90 or more days, performing temporary duty of 90 or more consecutive days, etc. Unused parental leave is forfeited after one year unless an exception is authorized or upon separation from active duty, according to the guidance.
Service members who were on maternity convalescent leave or caregiver leave prior to Dec. 27, 2022, and who had unused maternity convalescent leave or caregiver leave remaining, are transitioned to leave under the new policy without any loss of benefit and receive the expanded benefit, the guidance states.
Birth parents in a maternity convalescent leave status continue in that status, if applicable, until the birth parent completes the approved period of maternity convalescent leave, and then are eligible for 12 weeks of parental leave. Service members on primary or secondary caregiver leave will have that leave extended to provide them with a total of 12 weeks of parental leave, the guidance states.
The transition from maternity convalescent leave and/or caregiver leave to the expanded parental leave is intended to occur without interruption. The guidance provided some examples:
A birth parent who receives six weeks of "maternity convalescent leave" will also receive 12 weeks of non-chargeable parental leave following birth, for a total of 18 weeks of non-chargeable leave.
A father on three weeks of secondary caregiver leave as of Dec. 27, 2022, will receive a total of 12 weeks of parental leave.
As of Feb. 1, 2023, all military services have published, detailed guidance on the required forms, approval authorities and the process to request leave under the new program. Contact your military service's human resources professionals for more information.
The following is an example of a soldier who plans to take parental leave.
On Aug. 3, Tara Redmond gave birth to George Henry Redmond in Prince Frederick, Maryland.
Husband and father Army Staff Sgt. Kent Redmond works in the Pentagon as a mass communications specialist. He said he was happy to hear about the policy change and has not yet used his parental leave.
The couple plans to use the parental leave well before Aug. 3, when it expires, he said, adding that the new policy provides flexibility for his family and for his work because it can be used in more than one segment of time.
Over the years, there were small, incremental changes to parental leave, he said. When their first child, Lucille Jane, 4, was born, only 10 days of parental leave were authorized. A year later when John Terry was born, 14 days of parental leave were authorized.
Redmond, who has 16 years of service, said female soldiers he's known often chose to leave the Army to be with their newborns. He said he thinks this new policy will aid in retention, as well as recruitment.
Taking care of people is always good for increasing readiness of the force, he added.