7 Ways the New Benefit Reforms Will Help Families

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:

Senior Airman Joseph Tharp, a flight equipment technician with the 9th Operations Support Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, hugs his pregnant wife, Sarah, after returning home from a deployment to Afghanistan. Photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings

Senior Airman Joseph Tharp hugs his pregnant wife, Sarah, after returning home from a deployment to Afghanistan. Photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings

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.

Capt. Richard West (center) and soldiers from B Co., 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, read "Sam, the Army Dog" to the children of Monterey Road Child Development Center on Ord Military Community for the Army's 234th birthday. Photo by Hiro Chang

Capt. Richard West (center) and soldiers from B Co., 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, read “Sam, the Army Dog” to the children of Monterey Road Child Development Center on Ord Military Community for the Army’s 234th birthday. Photo by Hiro Chang

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.

Army Sgt. Kerry A. Eagan rocks her 9-month-old son, Tobias, after breastfeeding him at 2-2 SBCT Mothers Room at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The room was created by 2-2 SBCT’s Family Readiness Group, the unit and volunteer organizations to provide breastfeeding mothers a place to nurse their infants or pump breast milk. Army photo by Sgt. Sinthia Rosario

Army Sgt. Kerry A. Eagan rocks her 9-month-old son, Tobias, after breastfeeding him at 2-2 SBCT Mothers Room at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The room was created by 2-2 SBCT’s Family Readiness Group, the unit and volunteer organizations to provide breastfeeding mothers a place to nurse their infants or pump breast milk. Army photo by Sgt. Sinthia Rosario

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.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Esper walks across the flight line with his wife and children during a homecoming celebration at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington in Maryland Sept. 7, 2010. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Clifford H. Davis

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Esper walks across the flight line with his wife and children during a homecoming celebration at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington in Maryland Sept. 7, 2010. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Clifford H. Davis

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.

Seaman Apprentice Crystal Abbott, assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100), hugs her nephew as they are reunited during a homecoming ceremony. Kidd returned from an eight-month deployment to the western Pacific region. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Karolina A. Oseguera

Seaman Apprentice Crystal Abbott hugs her nephew as they are reunited during a homecoming ceremony. Kidd returned from an eight-month deployment to the western Pacific region. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Karolina A. Oseguera

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.

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  • BroncoFan

    What about the affect on readiness when someone is gone from work for 12 weeks? In some career fields it could be detrimental to be gone that long; 6 weeks is hard enough to backfill work from a management standpoint, 12 weeks could be mission failure to some small organizations. Will it be like having a Reservist come back in where the first few days/weeks of time are filled with make-up work on ADLS, shots, etc? I’m wondering if most of these returnees will immediately be put on deployment rotations to quell the bleeding in the manpower realm for taskings? Oh, and now the DoD has $$ to freeze eggs and sperm, but not the $$ to keep fully-qualified Airmen around? Nice to know what getting rid of the A-10 will eventually pay for. Lastly, Airmen can try to arbitrarily postpone PCS’s now because it’s deemed NOT in the best interest of them personally vice the Air Force?? Does the same go for a deployment, training TDY, etc? Of course, last I read in the assignments AFI, these programs (like HSSAD) are already covered, so why even bring them up in this article? I’m just wondering if the military is becoming corporate-/business-minded like Google, Miscrosoft, etc or are we still a military with a Profession of Arms?

    • Kristen Dukat

      clearly you never served.

      • BroncoFan

        This is actually in response to me?! Ms Dukat, I’m about to end a 30 year career in the AF. So, I would not respond to something unless I have the experience to back it up. So, I can send you something to prove my service, but I don’t think I want to waste my time.

  • BroncoFan

    I further offer the latest speech regarding our AF’s readiness, just given Friday, 12 Feb by VCSAF, where he says “The Budget Control Act further degraded our readiness, and there is simply no way to recover without time, money, and people. While the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 provides some space to recover readiness and continue modernization efforts, your Air Force needs permanent relief from BCA, consistent, flexible funding, modestly increased manpower, and time to recover readiness.” So, in the age of EXTREME budget and manpower constraints, our civilian leadership continues to press ahead with programs that cost money and manpower.