The Army rolled out its tardy parental leave policy Tuesday, expanding maternity leave and sharply increasing the benefit for non-birth parents as well.
Both mothers and non-birth parents — including soldiers who adopt children, have them through surrogates or accept long-term foster care responsibilities — are now entitled to 12 weeks of parental leave, according to the administrative message announcing the change. The policy, which comes nine months after the service revamped other parenthood policies, applies to active-duty troops and Reserve or Guard members on extended active-duty tours.
The service was the final branch to implement expanded parental leave guidelines mandated by Congress and issued by the Defense Department — the Air Force and Space Force issued their policies on Jan. 5, the Navy published theirs on Jan. 19 and the Marine Corps announced its changes Monday.
Advocates voiced frustration about the delay, alleging that some commands used the lack of Army implementation guidance as an excuse to deny extended leave in the interim. But soldiers facing pushback from their local leaders over taking leave might be thankful for the wait.
Commanders who want to deny any portion of the nonchargeable 12-week leave will need to justify the decision to the first general officer in their chain of command, who is the only official allowed to formally deny parental leave requests. That policy applies to both mothers, who can take the 12 weeks of leave in addition to their existing six-week convalescent leave, and non-birth parents.
None of the other military branches have a similar denial procedure, though the defense department policy directs the services to establish appeal processes for partial denials. Soldiers are also authorized to request leave in nonconsecutive blocks of at least a week in length, but commanders have the authority to deny such requests.
There’s also good news for parents whose children arrived during the delay in implementing the policy — the leave entitlement is backdated to Dec. 27, when the DoD memorandum authorizing it was signed.
But soldiers shouldn’t wait to submit requests. New parents have a year to use or lose the benefit after their child arrives, with minor exceptions authorized for those who had to defer the request for deployment, temporary duty, professional military education or a change of station move, among other circumstances.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.