Family advocates are pleased to see that provisions affecting families have been added to the latest drafts of the Defense Department's far-reaching "Force of the Future" plan.
"The first iteration of 'Force of the Future' didn't mention families," said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association.
Raezer said she and others met with Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson and brought up the need to include families.
"I'm pleased to see they're including some of that," she said. ""If you're talking about the force of the future and looking at future demographics, women and families are an important part of that discussion."
But it remains to be seen what actually can be done with these ideas, she said, given the current budget environment and the fact that a new administration will be taking over within 16 months.
Among the family provisions in the latest report draft:
- Longer tours at permanent duty stations of choice. The services could create an "Additional Duty Service Obligation" authority allowing for longer tours of duty, to give service members better options to support the careers of their spouses or partners. Frequent moves cause disruptions in a variety of ways for military families, whether it’s a spouse having to give up a job, or children who have to change schools. "Although other government agencies and many private firms offer alternative ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ tracks for partners to trade during their careers, [DoD] makes little effort to do the same," the proposal states. "Staggering milestone tours in order to develop needed skills, independent of time-based promotion management, can help to retain substantial return on investment in training, education and experience." This would require a change in law.
- Expand parental leave for all military and civilian workers to 18 weeks per child during a career. That includes adopted children. Under current policy, service members may take six weeks of convalescent leave after giving birth; by law, married fathers may take only 10 days of paternity leave. Adoption leave maxes out at three weeks. The services have been reviewing their leave policies; for example, the Navy recently began offering 18 weeks of maternity leave for sailors and Marines.
- Extend hours of child development centers. The hours would overlap with service members' shifts by at least two hours at each end of the shift.
- Limit deployments for new mothers. This proposal would prohibit units from requiring new mothers to deploy within one year of giving birth or adopting a child.
- Install "mother’s rooms" throughout all installations. This would make it easier for mothers who pump breast milk during the day for their babies. The service secretaries would ensure installation of these rooms to meet requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
- Improve fertility services for troops. This could include allowing Tricare to cover advanced reproductive treatments such as in vitro fertilization, intrauterine insemination and freezing and storing of sperm and eggs. Tricare covers diagnoses of illnesses that can cause infertility and correction of any medical issues that may be causing the problem, but it does not cover IVF or artificial insemination. Some advanced procedures are available at cost for eligible patients on- or off-site at seven military treatment facilities across the U.S. Additional services are available at no charge to severely wounded personnel and their spouses as long as the member is on active duty. The report states that this proposal may positively affect retention, especially for female troops who "face demanding schedules during their prime childbearing years."
Staff writer Patricia Kime contributed to this story.