The Army has yet to release a new parental leave policy, meaning new parents are in limbo as the service is one of the last military branches to comply with the congressionally mandated changes.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said at a town hall meeting with soldiers in Hawaii on Tuesday that tweaks still need to be made so the upcoming policy doesn't have unintended impacts on any existing leave rules.
"The fact we haven't come out with a policy yet is on me," Wormuth said. "This is a case where I think we have to measure twice and cut once. Our concern was, if we put out the policy quickly before we understood the implications, we would give bad guidance, have to redo it and create confusion."
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The new policy is set to give soldiers 12 weeks of parental leave for new mothers and fathers, including foster parents. That is on top of existing convalescent leave, which grants six weeks of leave to primary caregivers and three weeks for secondary caregivers.
Army officials with direct knowledge of the policy plans told Military.com that soldiers will have parental leave in place this week, nearly a month after the congressional deadline. Two of those officials told Military.com that the Army needed to wait on the Pentagon to finalize the rules and that the workflow to develop policy isn't set up well enough to work in tandem with the Pentagon or write policy ahead of time anticipating final Defense Department guidance.
The Pentagon put out the policy for the military writ large on Jan. 4. The Marine Corps also has not released a policy yet.
The delay in releasing an Army policy has left new parents in limbo and commands unsure of what to do.
"My unit is trying to figure out something," one soldier who recently had a child told Military.com on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. "Big Army choosing to drag their heels on this settled matter has really put a lot of undue stress on my family and I'm sure many others across the formation as there has been so little information given to soldiers regarding this matter."
Wormuth told soldiers at the town hall that the policy will be retroactive, meaning new parents can take the new leave even though the policy came after the birth. However, she did not commit to how far back the birth or arrival of a child could be while still entitling new parents to the leave.
The expanded benefits were mandated by Congress in December 2021, part of the annual defense policy bill, which gave the Pentagon a year to figure out how to implement them, with a deadline of Jan. 1, 2023. The services all have to take that guidance and issue it to their formations, largely as a formality, given branch-specific rules are mostly copy-and-paste jobs from Pentagon rules.
The Coast Guard, Air Force and Space Force put out their parental leave policy the day after Pentagon guidance was issued. The Navy issued its policy on Friday.
"There may be cases from a readiness perspective we can't have a particular soldier take the 12 weeks all at once," Wormuth said. "We're trying to work through what guidance to give to commanders in terms of how to approve those policies."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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