The US military is one of the world’s largest employers, and now it wants to be known as a family-friendly one. Last week defense secretary Ashton Carter announced a slew of new benefits for service members across the military’s branches, including 12 weeks of paid maternity leave and increased child care provisions.
Somewhat lost in the announcement was that the Pentagon may begin paying for costly egg- and sperm-freezing procedures for troops. That’s a rare benefit for employees anywhere, the kind of thing even Silicon Valley employers such as Facebook and Apple have only recently started offering, garnering both praise and backlash in the process.
The new initiative, which the Pentagon is expected to outline more fully in the weeks ahead, is meant to benefit soldiers at risk of having their reproductive organs damaged in combat, as has happened to thousands of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could also encourage women to delay childbearing and remain active in the force as they advance through their childbearing years.
The new policy means active-duty service members will be eligible to receive financial assistance from the military’s healthcare plan, Tricare, for preserving reproductive cells for later use. The program will be evaluated two years from now and may or may not be made permanent. It could cost the military an estimated $150 million over the next five years, according to the New York Times.
“We know that providing this benefit across the board would result in a significant cost for the department,” a Pentagon spokesman told the Times. “In addition to cost, we want to better understand the importance of this to our force, as well as its impact on recruiting and retention. In addition to hormone therapies and egg and sperm freezing, we are going to continue looking at ways to provide additional support for these types of treatments in the future.”