Women’s Initiative Team increases support for nursing parents across six uniformed services

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Victoria Hommel
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

The Joint Women’s Initiative Team made up of volunteers across six of the eight uniformed services, are working to append the Joint Travel Regulations to include reimbursement of breast milk transportation for mothers separated from their infants while on official travel.

Currently, the Department of the Air Force provides nursing mothers a place to pump and store breast milk, while Tricare covers the costs of a pump and supplies to help maintain a nursing relationship up to 36 months after a birth event. However, the Joint Women’s Initiative Team is working to increase support for Airmen and their families.

“With a formal amendment of the JTR, new parents who are stressing about how they’re going to successfully feed their child while on official orders can remove the financial costs from their list of worries,” said U.S Air Force Maj. Jenna Waites, a student of the Command and General Staff Officer Course. “For many parents, breast feeding is the most cost effective and healthy way to feed their child, but this assumes mom and baby are never separated.”

In the case of parent separation while under official orders the options are limited for nursing mothers, with one alternative of stopping breastfeeding all together. For mothers who pump up to eight times a day this option can be mentally, emotionally and financially draining.

While under official travel orders during her reassignment to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Waites was separated from her infant for a total of 10 days, reporting the cost of transporting a 14-day supply, 350 oz. or 45-lb shipment, of breast milk coming in at just under $500.

“It simply isn’t feasible for many new parents in the military,” Waites said. “Back when I was a young second lieutenant, non-reimbursable shipments totaling hundreds of dollars would have been barely affordable to me.”

The Joint Women’s Initiative Team identified that on average 18% of all active duty Airmen are going on temporary duty orders within the first year of birth. Further, a 2018 RAND Corporation study on Female Air Force Officer Retention specifically noted that respondents mentioned separating from the service due to lack of support for women trying to maintain a nursing relationship with their child while managing their career.

Recently, nursing mothers pursued the option to acquire a legal review and seek reimbursement under the medical need portion of the JTR. However, with the anticipated policy change expected around January 2022, nursing mothers would be able to claim reimbursement for transporting breast milk in a travel voucher the same they would with other reimbursable costs.

“This effort was championed by a joint team of women from across six uniformed services that saw a change that needed to be made and leaned in to make that change happen,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Samantha Sliney, Joint Women’s Initiative Team volunteer. “I encourage anyone who sees a barrier to not just walk past it, identify it, strategize a course of action to address it and put in the time to make our Air Force and Department of Defense a better place.”