Military service members and their spouses are growing angry after the Department of Defense missed its Jan. 1 deadline to release its parental leave guidelines, more than a year after plans for a new policy were announced.
Signed into law in December 2021, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act required that all of the services provide paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, giving the military branches until the end of 2022 to make the changes.
Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesman, told Military.com on Dec. 15 that the policy would be enacted "no later than Jan. 1, 2023."
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But as of Jan 3, no policy had been rolled out, and service members and their families were voicing frustration.
"It's creating chaos on the planning for our newborn," one active-duty Navy sailor, who spoke under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told Military.com.
"Baby is due next week, and My Navy Career Center has no additional information to provide at this time," the sailor said, referencing the Navy's human resources system.
On Tuesday, Dietz told Military.com, "We are expecting that policy to be publicly released within the next week. Hopefully, this week."
But military families who are soon expecting children say the lack of guidance is causing them worry and stress.
The policy change means all service members should be eligible for 12 weeks of leave for the birth, adoption or long-term fostering of a child. That leave will be nonchargeable, meaning it doesn't count against other leave allowances.
Birth mothers will still be eligible for maternity convalescent leave, as well as the parental leave, under the policy.
Previous policies provided up to six weeks of maternity convalescent leave to new military moms and granted 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 of leave in the Army and Air Force, and two weeks in the Navy and Marine Corps.
It's not yet clear whether the DoD's paternal leave policies will be retroactive for military families who gave birth to or adopted or fostered children since the 2022 NDAA was passed.
"Until the policy is set, we do not know if there will be any related retroactive pay," Dietz told Military.com on Dec. 15.
Julie Bogen, a Navy spouse and editor for 19th News, blasted the policy delay on Twitter, saying the radio silence from the Pentagon is causing worry for military families and leaves those who grew their families last year facing financial uncertainty.
"The longer the policy is delayed, the longer families who have welcomed or who are imminently welcoming a child are in limbo," Bogen tweeted Tuesday. "Will they get this leave retroactively? Is there a coverage plan for the folks who will be entitled to that leave?"
The changes come at a time where the military, as a whole, has instituted more progressive policy changes aimed at accommodating women, families and service members who are racial minorities -- ranging from creating nursing rooms on military bases to more welcoming beard waivers for medical conditions predominantly affecting Black service members.
And while some service members are happy with the direction the military is moving, they find the lack of guidance on the parental leave policy particularly frustrating.
"My wife and I are due on Jan. 11," said an active-duty Coast Guardsman, who spoke to Military.com on 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."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to add comment from Dietz on Tuesday.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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