By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
Last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced several reforms that will help service men and women reach a better work-life balance. Maternity leave, paternity leave and child care services are just a few of the benefits that are expanding to strengthen the support of our current military families, as well as to attract top talent to the force.
So what are the changes, why were they made and how will they affect you? Here’s the gist:
Paid maternity leave will increase to 12 continuous weeks Defense Department-wide.
More and more women have joined the military in the past few decades; however, Carter said that a primary reason why they are leaving the force is due to a high level of work-family conflict. To combat that, he’s expanding maternity leave to 12 continuous weeks – doubling the standard of six weeks for most services – giving new moms more time to recover from their pregnancies and bond with their new babies.
The change will also help new moms be more prepared to return to the work force. “That was one of the most difficult things I had to do – leave [my newborn daughter] with a complete stranger when she was still tiny,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Lori Bent, who only received six weeks of paid leave when she was pregnant.
Paternity leave will expand from 10 to 14 non-consecutive days.
Parenting is not just a mom’s responsibility. Just ask Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Harry Andrew D. Gordon, whose wife had a baby last week.
“The exhaustion and the time being spent with my child and my wife – it’s so important. Even those few extra days more would be so helpful and beneficial to the family,” Gordon said.
Carter is seeking legislation on this initiative, which will also encourage more dads to take that time off.
DoD child development center hours will extend to a 14-hour minimum.
Many service members work shifts that don’t match up to DoD service provider hours. For example, your base’s CDC might be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but you work until 8 p.m., so you’re stuck with finding another child care provider to cover that time. According to Carter, nearly half of military families have to do that.
This initiative will change that for most service members, who will now be able to get child care from before reveille until after taps.
Bent said that’s been a big concern for her, so it’s a welcome change that will help make working parents more flexible and, in turn, more productive. “If I can’t pick up my kid by a certain time, then I’m not going to be able to do what you’re asking me to do, and then that, of course, hurts everything else that goes along with the job,” Bent said.
Installations with facilities where 50+ women are regularly assigned will install or modify mothers’ rooms.
This will greatly help mothers who have returned to work and want to continue breastfeeding. Many installations are old and weren’t built with working mothers in mind, so the addition of these rooms will give new moms a space of their own and help them decompress.
Service members can postpone PCSing if it’s in a family member’s best interest.
The average service member changes duty stations every three years, moving and uprooting their entire lives, which is hard on the whole family. Now, if you have a good reason to stay at your current station – if, say, your daughter wants to finish her high school career where she started, a spouse is finishing a degree or an ailing family member needs important treatment from a nearby top-notch facility – this change will ensure you’ll be able to stick around and keep that connection.
If Carter successfully seeks an amendment to Title 10 to make this happen, service members requesting it would have to agree to additional comparable active-duty service.
Adoption leave will be expanded for dual military couples.
The DoD currently offers three weeks of leave to one parent for adoption leave. If Carter gets authority from Congress, this reform would expand that to two weeks’ leave for a second parent.
The DoD will cover the cost for active-duty members to freeze their sperm or eggs.
Many career fields require service members to sacrifice their ability to start a family, especially if they’re deployed in combat. This reform, through Tricare, will help those service members have greater piece of mind knowing that they’ll be able to still have a family later in life.
Carter has also asked all of the services to examine additional options for child care services that pertain to child development wait times, applications and training. For a full explanation of the changes, check out the fact sheet provided on defense.gov.