Army Staff Sgt. Alex Henninger kisses his newborn son, Hugo.

Army Staff Sgt. Alex Henninger kisses his newborn son, Hugo. ( EJ Hersom/Department of Defense)

WASHINGTON — The recent expansion of parental leave benefits for active-duty service members could be matched for drilling members of reserve forces and the National Guard under legislation that a pair of senators hope will provide parity for all troops.

A bill introduced by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, aims to provide leave for all new parents, including non-birthing parents and parents of adopted or foster children, who serve as Guard members or reservists on a drill. Only birth mothers are now eligible for leave.

Congress in 2021 mandated the expansion of parental leave benefits for active-duty service members and the Defense Department in January announced it would grant 12 weeks of leave not just for birth mothers but for spouses, partners, and adoptive and foster parents as well. The Pentagon previously gave six weeks of leave for new mothers, and three weeks for non-birthing parents.

The new policy applies to service members with reserve components who are on active status but not those on drill status, who are instead subject to the Reserve Component Maternity Leave Program. Advocates for reserve troops have repeatedly pointed out the disparity.

“Parental leave should be available to all new parents, and service members in the reserves and the National Guard should have the same access to parental leave as those serving on active duty,” Hassan said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill and help to ensure that all service members are given the opportunity to bond with their children.”

Murkowski said the current law has “significant inequalities” and described the proposed bill, called the Reserve Component Parental Leave Parity Act, as a common-sense solution.

“The Reserve Component Parental Leave Parity Act creates greater fairness among military parents, but it also allows military parents — many who already sacrifice time with their loved ones in service to our country — to have the opportunity to create a strong bond with their child,” she said in a statement. “That’s something every new parent deserves.”

The legislation does not change the amount of leave Guard members and reservists can take but expands eligibility beyond birth mothers. Under the current maternity leave program for reserve components, mothers can use excused absences with pay and retirement points for 12 training sessions, or the equivalent of three monthly weekend drills, within 12 months of giving birth.

Congress created the maternity leave program in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, an annual policy bill setting priorities for the Pentagon. The Defense Department implemented the policy last year.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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