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Shaheen, Ernst Send Bipartisan Letter Urging Department of Defense to Implement Leave Without Pay Policy for Spouses of Service Members

** Policy would address employment challenges impacting military spouses**

(Washington, DC) - U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), senior members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a bipartisan letter to the Department of Defense (DoD) urging the agency to implement a Leave Without Pay policy (LWOP), which would allow the spouses of service members, who may experience professional gaps during relocation periods, to apply for federal jobs and access existing benefits that they otherwise risk losing. The letter, sent to Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Ashish Vazirani, also calls for a briefing on the recommendations and considerations of a standardized LWOP policy across all military services for when a spouse is re-assigned. 

In part, the Senators wrote, “Specifically, for federally employed military spouses, changes of assignment often result in a break in federal service. The negative effects of this break include fewer available jobs because some positions are only available to current federal employees, the loss of certain accrued leave, and potentially losing agency-matched contributions to Thrift Savings Plan accounts that have not yet vested.” 

They continued, “An effective solution for this problem is a Department-wide LWOP policy that allows employees to remain in the competitive service when their service member spouses change assignment. While some of the military departments and defense agencies have created their own policies for LWOP to address this matter, many have not, and there is significant variation in the policies.” 

The Senators concluded, “We urge the Department to establish a standardized policy for the military departments and agencies directing a baseline amount of leave without pay for federal civilians when their service member spouses change duty locations. Spouses who are able to access an equitable, robust, and Department of Defense-standardized LWOP will be able to apply for more federal jobs that are only open to existing federal employees, can onboard to their new jobs faster, and avoid disruptions to vesting their Thrift Savings Plan investments.” 

Full text of the letter can be found here.

Since arriving in the Senate, Senator Shaheen has spearheaded efforts in support of military families. In the government funding legislation for fiscal year (FY) 2022, Shaheen successfully secured $3 million to implement her bipartisan legislation with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), which improves the transferability of military spouses’ occupational licenses and helps alleviate the burden spouses endure if they’re small business owners from having to constantly re-register their businesses as they move from state to state with their families. In FY 2023 government funding legislation, Shaheen supported the inclusion of $25 million for the Beyond Yellow Ribbon (BYR) program, which funds the New Hampshire National Guard’s Care Coordination Program. BYR programs provide outreach services to troops returning from deployment, including health care, marriage and financial counseling, substance misuse treatment and mental health services. Shaheen previously helped introduce legislation to amend the tax code to provide businesses a financial incentive to hire military spouses and create new flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to make it easier for military families to afford childcare. In late 2022, Shaheen joined a bipartisan group of Senators in sending a letter to the Department of Defense, calling on the department to use all tools and authorities at their disposal to protect military families from private housing contractors that are not providing protections guaranteed by the military tenant’s bill of rights.