WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday unveiled a series of family-friendly proposals for the military that would increase parental leave, child care and health care coverage to bolster efforts to recruit and retain service members.

Carter told a Pentagon news conference that he will double the length of fully paid maternity leave for female service members and work with Congress to boost time off for paternity leave and adoptions. He said he also intends to expand health care coverage to include more benefits for women trying to get pregnant. And he is directing the military services to expand the hours that military child care facilities are open and the number of children that can be accommodated.

The changes, which will cost an estimated $385 million over the next five years, are part of Carter’s ongoing effort to modernize the military and make it more attractive to job seekers. He’s already pushed past Marine Corps objections to allowing women to apply for combat jobs and has expressed a willingness to consider allowing transgender people serve openly.

The new initiatives, said Carter, “will strengthen our competitive position in the battle for top talent, in turn guaranteeing our competitive position against potential adversaries.” But, he added, any adjustments had to be balanced against the need to maintain a strong and ready fighting force.


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