The defense bill expected to be signed shortly by President Donald Trump allows active-duty women who give birth to defer deployment up to a year after having a baby.
The Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard already have policies that extend yearlong deferrals to their members following childbirth, but the Army and Marine Corps only offer a six-month deferral.
The Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act standardizes the policy, with the stipulation that the service member who wants to stay home must have the approval of a health care provider.
The soon-to-be law stipulates, however, that the Department of Defense reserves the right to deploy the new mom if the assignment is considered to be in the interest of national security.
The provision was originally sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and seven other House Democrats.
“I am proud to keep up the fight for our nation’s veterans,” Meng said in August when her proposal was included in the House version of the bill. “I will continue to do all I can to ensure that our veterans have the resources they need and services they require.”
Active-duty Army and Marine Corps women have said their respective services’ deployment policies led them to curtail the length of time they breast-fed their children to less than four months to ensure they met deployment height and weight standards by six months after giving birth.
Among other women’s health provisions in the legislation, the bill requires the Defense Department to gather and report more information on gynecological and perinatal health from Millennium Cohort Study data, focusing on fertility, maternal mortality, pregnancy related conditions, birth defects and developmental disabilities.
It also encourages DoD to better promote the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Women’s Health Transition Training Pilot Program, an initiative that provides live and virtual classroom instruction to transitioning service members on the availability of women’s medical care services at VA, enrollment in VA health care and transition assistance.
Dropped from the final version of the bill was a provision that would have established a pilot program for active-duty service members to freeze their sperm or eggs before deploying to a combat zone.
The proposal, introduced by Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., would have allowed 1,000 service members to preserve and store gametes for up to a year after they separated or retired from service. Afterward, it would have been up to the veteran to pay for the storage.
In 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter introduced the fertility benefit as part of the Pentagon’s “Force of the Future” initiatives but it was never implemented.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.