Pentagon Rolls Out New Parental Leave Policy—Air Force Details Still to Come

Service members will now be eligible for 12 weeks of paid parental leave, the Pentagon announced Jan. 4. The Department of the Air Force could not immediately provide details on how the new policy will be implemented.

The sweeping changes to the military’s parental leave policy, mandated by Congress in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, means service members will be eligible for at least three months of leave following a new birth, adoption, or long-term care of a foster child.

“It is important for the development of military families that members be able to care for their newborn, adopted, or placed child or children,” Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr., the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, wrote in a memo directing the new rules. “Unit commanders must balance the needs of the unit with the needs of the member to maximize the opportunity to use parental leave.”

That memo, released more than a year after the 2022 NDAA was signed and retroactive to Dec. 27, 2022, specifically directs the secretaries of each military department to “implement the policy … in their respective military services” and “issue further service-specific guidance.”

A Department of Air Force spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine they could not immediately provide details on how the DAF would implement the policy.

Regardless, the new 12-week standard will be a step up from the Department of the Air Force’s current parental leave policies, put in place in 2018. New mothers in the Air Force and Space Force got six weeks of convalescent leave after birth, and the primary caregiver of the new child could take an additional six weeks of leave, while the secondary caregiver could take three weeks of leave. Other services, such as the Navy, have had less generous policies.

The new DOD-wide Military Parental Leave Program (MPLP) aims to ensure that service members will be able to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave, in addition to medically-necessary convalescent leave for new mothers.

Service members can take parental leave in one continuous period or in increments “consistent with operational requirements,” according to the Pentagon.

Leave must be taken within 12 months of the birth or adoption, though operationally deployed members can defer parental leave until their deployment is completed with an extension of the one-year period during which leave is allowed.

The convalescence leave must be medically ordered and taken immediately following a birth. In November, lawmakers wrote a letter to Cisneros insisting that cutting short convalescent leave because other forms of parental leave would be extended would be contrary to Congress’s intent.

Advocates say the new leave policy will help the Pentagon retain and attract talent amid a historically competitive job market, putting military parental leave policies more in line with the rest of the federal government and private employers.