McCaskill Urges Sec. Gates to Adopt Uniform, Fair Maternity Leave Policy
Current Army maternity policy does not support medical recommendations for extended time with newborns before mothers must deploy for combat
February 21, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the uncovering by the Washington Post that there is a significant disparity in the policies of the military services on exemption from deployment for post-maternity active duty mothers, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill called on Secretary Robert Gates to establish a “single, equitable policy” that makes medical, including psychological, considerations of the mother and newborn child the first priority of the policy. Each of the four military services currently has a different policy on post-birth deployment deferment for military mothers. The Washington Post found that the Army, which sends its servicemembers on the longest combat deployments of any service, affords new mothers the shortest post-birth deferment from deployment.
“While the strain of meeting manpower demands for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are clearly tremendous, maintenance of a policy that undervalues the health of a newborn infant is unacceptable,” McCaskill said.
Currently, the Army guarantees mothers to stay home with newborns for only four months, with deployments that span fifteen months possible immediately thereafter. The Marine Corps affords new Marine mothers a six month exemption from deployment and the Navy a 12 month exemption. The Army, notably, also has the longest deployments of any military service at 15 months.
McCaskill also expressed deep concerns with the Army’s disregard of medical advice when it established and maintained the current four month exemption policy. The Washington Post reported that the then-acting Army Surgeon General, Major General Gale Pollock, recommended to Army leaders that the exemption be extended to at least eight months, noting that12 months would be the most ideal scenario, based on best medical practices. Pollock focused on health benefits of extended breast feeding and psychological considerations such as mother-infant bonding in making her recommendations. The Army appeared to ignore Pollock’s suggestion and maintained its four month deferment. McCaskill said that this represents a new instance of “the undervaluing of medical and mental health related advice in determining deployability of soldiers by Army leaders.” Similar allegations have been raised in the past in relation to physical and mental health determinations concerning the deployability of Army soldiers.
The Washington Post report also cites Army officials suggesting that a major reason that women soldiers choose to leave the Army or not to enlist was due to “constraints on reproduction, child-rearing and family.” In fact, a survey conducted by the Army indicates that from November of 2003 as many as 10 percent of women 16 to 21 years old were inclined to serve, but that number has drastically declined to only four percent in July of 2007.
McCaskill noted, “Our military needs today’s heroic women servicemembers. We cannot afford to maintain policies that penalize them in an area as sensitive as newborn infant care, nor in other facets of their careers, less we lose the ability both to retain these heroes and recruit new ones.”
Tags: Iraq Veterans
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