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Defense bill would expand leave for veterans joining federal workforce

Lawmakers are looking to expand access to leave benefits for service members who transition to the federal workforce in the 2024 defense bill.

The latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to pass through the House and Senate this week, includes a provision that would recognize previous military service in calculating family and medical leave for veterans working in the federal government.

“By crediting time in uniform towards paid parental leave for the federal government, we will help retain the best and brightest America has to offer,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., in a statement Tuesday. Lawmakers have said family-friendly policies help ensure the public sector has competitive benefits to attract and retain employees amid workforce shortages in cyber and HR.

Other supporters of the policy include Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., Don Bacon, R-Neb., Nancy Mace, R-S.C., and Chris Smith, R-N.J.

With the defense bill teed up for passage in Congress, President Joe Biden has signaled he will sign the measure into law later this month. If it clears both steps with the provision, a federal employee with at least a year of active military service will have met requirements for the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The FMLA, which passed in 1993, provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave without pay for the birth, adoption or foster of a child, a serious health condition or caregiver leave. Health insurance coverage is also retained during that time. To access that benefit, federal workers have to be in their position for at least a year.

Previously, service members were not eligible to credit their prior military time for FMLA if they had transitioned to the government. However, active duty service by members of the National Guard or Reserves is counted.

Federal agencies employ more than half a million veterans, which is to say about one in every four civil servants has prior or existing military experience, according to the government’s HR agency. In a memo to agency leaders in February, the Biden administration urged the creation and support of policies that would grant leave during employees’ first year of work, when they may not yet have accrued enough time to be eligible for other benefits.

Last winter, legislation was also introduced to make FMLA fully paid, though that has yet to become law. A law passed in 2019 makes leave for parental duties paid under FMLA in certain circumstances.

“Every American worker deserves access to family and medical leave, and the provision we secured in the NDAA will recognize time in military service like time in the federal civil service,” said Rep. Beyer in a statement.

Military Times reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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