DAF senior leaders amplify SecDef directives for reproductive health care

  • Published
  • By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced that the Department of Defense will take appropriate actions to ensure service members and their families can access reproductive health care within its authority and consistent with applicable federal law, in addition to clear guidance for health care providers to operate effectively.

These actions will establish travel and transportation allowances for service members and their families to access reproductive health care, establish additional privacy protections and conduct a comprehensive contraception education campaign.

Austin stated the actions outlined in the memo, Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care, should be executed no later than the end of the year to the maximum extent possible.

“Reproductive health care impacts readiness, recruiting, retention and quality of life. Our policies and programs will empower families to make appropriate decisions based on their needs,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall.

Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones also stressed the importance of taking care of Airmen, Guardians and their families.

“Secretary Austin’s directive to update DoD reproductive health policies is critical to protecting Airmen and Guardians’ access to reproductive health care services, as well as their privacy,” Jones said. “This is about taking care of our people and about being mission ready. DAF leaders will continue to communicate with the Force as new policies are implemented to ensure awareness of available reproductive health care services and support.”

In his memo, Austin directed the DoD to accomplish certain actions to give service members and their families the time to make private health care decisions: 

· Establish travel and transportation allowances for service members and dependents to travel to access non-covered reproductive health care that is not available within the local area of a service member’s permanent duty station, consistent with operational requirements and applicable federal law.

· Establish additional privacy protections for reproductive health care information, including standardizing and extending the time service members have to fulfill their obligation to notify commanders of a pregnancy to no later than 20 weeks unless specific requirements to report sooner, such as those necessitated by occupational health hazards, are set forth in policy.

· Conduct a comprehensive contraception education campaign to enhance service members’ awareness of the resources available to them and their families, including emergency contraception. That education campaign will also highlight that the DoD has eliminated TRICARE co-pays for medical contraceptive services, including intrauterine devices.

Austin also directed DoD officials to develop guidance to protect health care providers, who should not be held personally liable for performing their official duties.

Additionally, Austin reiterated the DoD will not change comprehensive access to contraception and family planning services for service members and their families. He directed military medical treatment facilities with the appropriate clinical capacity to expand their services, to include dedicated hours for walk-in contraceptive care for service members, and on a space available basis, for all other eligible beneficiaries. Some MTFs currently offer walk-in contraceptive services, and all MTFs will have walk-in contraceptive services by January 2023.

TRICARE beneficiaries also no longer have to pay cost-shares or co-payments for all TRICARE-covered contraceptives. These include IUDs, hormonal shots and slow-release hormonal rods, which go under the skin. This change went into effect July 28. If you paid for services on or after July 28, you can submit a claim to your TRICARE contractor after Nov. 1 to receive reimbursement.

Department of the Air Force leaders sent a letter titled Total Force Airmen and Guardians on Reproductive Health Care Services on Aug. 17, 2022, listing resources and information about access to care, including a contraception chart, covered abortions, privacy, leave policies and DoD FAQs. These DAF-specific resources and policies remain in place as the DoD works to meet Austin’s outlined directives.

For additional information on reproductive health care, visit Air Force Medical Services.