Congress recently recessed for the rest of the year. One of the bills it passed was the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2015. The bill included many provisions important to women in the military:

Coverage of Breastfeeding Supplies and Education

The NDAA for FY 2015 requires the TRICARE program to cover breastfeeding supplies and education for military women and women in military families. This legislation represents a huge win for military families and ensures that they have breastfeeding coverage that is similar to the coverage provided in most private health plans.

Breastfeeding benefits the mother and the child, but too often there is a gap between women’s desire to breastfeed their children and the support they need to successfully breastfeed. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the vast majority of private health insurance plans now cover breast pumps and education to help women initiate and continue breastfeeding. Before now, however, military women were not entitled to comprehensive breastfeeding benefits because TRICARE—the Department of Defense health care program—was not required to provide this important coverage. In fact, TRICARE has historically covered breast pumps only for mothers with premature infants.

With passage of the NDAA, this inequity in breastfeeding coverage has been fixed, and women with TRICARE coverage will be able to access breast pumps, other supplies and instruction in breastfeeding, which the Institute of Medicine has identified as critical factors that influence whether a woman begins to breastfeed and the duration of breastfeeding. 

Removing Barriers to Women’s Service

This legislation has three helpful provisions:

  • Gender-Neutral Occupational Standards. The Defense Department is now in a critical phase for letting women serve up to their full potential. The old, outdated rule that excluded women from certain ground combat assignments has been eliminated and at the end of next year (by January 1, 2016) all military positions and units must generally be opened to women. This legislation requires that gender-neutral occupational standards that are now being developed in each of the Services must accurately predict performance of actual, regular and recurring duties and must be applied equitably to measure individual capabilities.
  • Combat Gear. Many more women are now performing combat duties. This legislation requires that combat equipment for women be properly designed and fitted and meet required standards for wear and survivability.
  • Accessions of Women Officers. The Services need to have a strong pool of highly qualified individuals to meet their leadership needs. The NDAA for FY 2015 requires a review by the Comptroller General of the United States of the Services outreach and recruitment efforts gauged toward women officers. This review will identify and evaluate current recruiting methods and put forward new ones, including new ways to increase the accessions of women into the military academies.

Addressing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

Congress here continues its practice of legislating in various ways in an attempt to stem the tide of military sexual assaults. The NDAA for FY 2015 has a number of provisions aimed at the problem. Notably, it eliminates the “good soldier defense”—which is a consideration of general military character toward the probability of innocence in sexual assault prosecutions. This is a good step. The legislation also requires that victims be consulted regarding their preference for prosecuting offenders by court-martial or through civilian channels. While these and the other provisions may be beneficial, the NWLC believes they do not go far enough. The most effective way to combat sexual assaults would be to create an independent, unbiased system of military justice, as provided in the proposed Military Justice Improvement Act.

The National Women’s Law Center follows closely legislative and other developments with regard to the service of women in the military.