Bill Would Expand Paid Parental Leave for All New Military Parents

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Baby with Navy sailor.
The Servicemember Parental Leave Equity Act would give both the designated primary caregiver and secondary caregiver up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. (U.S. Navy)

House and Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation that would give military parents 12 weeks of family leave after the birth or adoption of a child -- a move that would provide flexibility and standardize benefits across the services.

The proposed Servicemember Parental Leave Equity Act, introduced Tuesday by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., would give both the designated primary caregiver and secondary caregiver up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

The lawmakers said the legislation would align military benefits with those offered by many federal agencies, and would not only improve the quality of life for military families but improve readiness and retention.

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"Parental leave for military service members is absurdly out of touch and outdated when compared to federal benefits and options provided by many private, large employers," said Speier, who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee for military personnel. "New parents need time to bond with their children after birth, adoption or foster placement; service members are no exception."

Currently, service members who give birth can take up to six weeks of maternity convalescent leave, while the family's designated primary caregiver has access to an additional six weeks of leave, taken at the caregiver's discretion.

Secondary caregivers get up to three weeks in the Army and the Air Force, and two weeks in the Navy and Marine Corps.

The bill would increase primary caregiver leave to 12 weeks -- in addition to the six weeks of convalescent leave following a birth or adoption -- giving a new service member mom who also is the designated primary caregiver more than four months of leave.

The bill would, for the first time, authorize the full 12 weeks of primary and secondary caregiver leave for foster children and require the Defense Department to establish policies that define caregiver leave for long-term fosters.

And it would require the DoD to implement uniform policies to allow for additional leave in the case of a stillbirth, miscarriage or infant death for primary and secondary caregivers.

Currently, DoD policies call for parental leave to terminate on the death of a child.

"My wife and I welcomed into our family a beautiful baby girl, Elaine Marie Checketts. However, our joy turned to despair when Elaine passed away two days after birth. In the midst of my family's grief, I was shocked and devastated to learn that my parental leave was revoked per Defense Department policy," wrote Air Force Maj. Matthew Checketts in an op-ed for Military.com, supporting the legislation. "I was in no condition to return to work, and my family needed me then more than ever."

The bill has the support of 31 cosponsors, including five Republicans. Earlier this year, Duckworth and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation named for Checketts' baby that would give troops leave to mourn infants who die.

The legislation is likely to be considered during the National Defense Authorization Act deliberations process later this year.

Also on Tuesday, Speier and Duckworth introduced a bill that would allow the DoD to expand an in-home child care subsidy pilot program established in last year's national defense policy bill; it would also direct the Pentagon to conduct a pilot to expand partnerships between the DoD and private providers.

Duckworth said the bill recognizes that accessible child care is a "necessity -- not a luxury."

"Our military's recruitment, retention and overall readiness are harmed when a military family can't find quality child care for their children," she said.

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

Related: Army Doubles Parental Leave for Secondary Caregivers

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