From the highest levels, we often hear uniformed leaders, government officials, and lawmakers proclaiming the notion of “family first” when it comes to taking care of servicemembers and their dependents. Last month, while observing Military Family Month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, “Put simply, our families make us more ready every day for the task of defending this nation.”
At MOAA, we recognize the service and sacrifice not only of those in uniform, but also of the spouses and children who are equally impacted by the hardships of a military lifestyle.
Some provisions in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed into law Dec. 27, demonstrate a commitment to honoring the “family first” refrain. From improving caregiver leave to expanding the in-home child care pilot program, Congress is acknowledging the need to make it easier for soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and guardians to continue serving and care for their families.
- Extension of paid parental leave: Primary and secondary caregivers will now receive up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave following the birth, adoption, or long-term foster placement of a child. Servicemembers who give birth will have up to 18 weeks, including a medical convalescent week.
- Bereavement leave: A new category of bereavement leave will provide up to two weeks of paid leave in connection with the death of an immediate family member. The leave will not count against the leave balances of servicemembers with less than 30 days of leave available; those with a leave balance in excess of 30 days will be charged for the leave to the point the balance reaches 30 days.
- Parental guardianship rights of cadets and midshipmen: The NDAA directs the secretary of defense, in consultation with service secretaries and the superintendents of the military academies, to develop a policy that includes the option to preserve parental guardianship rights of a cadet or midshipman.
- Expansion of in-home child care pilot: The FY 2021 NDAA authorized the “In-Home Child Care Fee Assistance Pilot” to help subsidize full-time care by an authorized care provider for a minimum of 30 hours to a maximum of 60 hours each week. The pilot was offered in five regions with a high demand for child care and long child development center (CDC) waitlists: the National Capital Region; Hawaii; San Diego; Norfolk, Va.; and San Antonio. This year’s NDAA authorizes the expansion of the pilot to regions deemed appropriate by DoD.
- Seven new CDCs: The new centers will be located at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; Fort Knox, Ky.; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas (2); Sheppard AFB, Texas; and Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom.
- CDC improvements: Enhanced safety inspections of CDCs will be required by all services. CDCs considered to be in “poor” and “failing” condition within the last three years will be required to report on efforts to correct violations. Additionally, services are tasked with developing 10-year facility improvements plans for all CDCs.
- In-home child care licenses: As part of efforts to address the shortage of family child care (FCC) providers, the NDAA requires a report detailing how many in-home child care licenses have been applied for and granted, how long the process takes, and what can be done to speed it up. (With a nationwide shortage of child care providers and the continuing high rates of military spouse unemployment, incentivizing spouses to become FCC providers could kill two birds with one stone.)
The Way Ahead
These provisions are positive steps toward proving “family first” is not just lip service. MOAA will continue to track the implementation of these provisions and keep you informed on issues affecting your military family.
Leading the way to improving military family support in 2022, the Air Force has adopted a framework of “Five to Thrive.” This framework from Sharon Brown, spouse of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., should not only guide DoD senior leaders’ priorities, but also inform Congress.
The five challenges addressed by the initiative – child care, education, health care, housing, and spouse employment – “are directly tied to military family readiness, resilience, and retention of the force,” according to a Dec. 17 news release unveiling the program.