Cornyn Moves to Allow Servicemembers Time to Grieve Deceased Children
by John Cornyn on July 1, 2020 at 12:30 PM
On the Senate floor yesterday, I spoke about an amendment I introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act to change current leave policy for U.S. servicemembers so their pre-approved parental leave is not terminated in the tragic event of a child’s death. My amendment is based on a bill I introduced earlier this year after hearing about the experience of Major Checketts, an active duty soldier at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland who lost his daughter Elaine. Excerpts of my remarks are below, and video of my remarks can be found here.
I offered one amendment to the bill that would extend this support to help military parents during a time of tragedy. It would change a policy that was brought to my attention by Major Matthew Checketts, who is an Active Duty Airman at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Major Checketts and his wife, Jessica, spent much of last year preparing for the arrival of their newest family member, a little girl named Elaine. When Elaine arrived last fall, Major Checketts was given twenty one days of parental leave to spend time with his family, but then they experienced an unimaginable tragedy. Their beautiful daughter passed away.
Instead of getting to know their newest family member, the Checketts family was facing a hardship every parent prays they will never have to endure. For many military families that loss is made even more difficult because of a Department of Defense policy which ends a service member's preapproved parental leave upon the death of a child— No time to grieve. No time to regroup.
The policy at the Department of Defense currently requires servicemembers to leave their family and return to work when that child dies. In Major Checketts’ case, his Commander allowed him to take his pre-approved leave to stay with his family, but not every servicemember will get that same consideration. That's why Senator Duckworth and I introduced the Elaine M. Checketts Military Family Act, named after Elaine.
The grief of losing a child should not be aggravated or compounded by having to face the grief thousands of miles away from your family.
So as we begin to debate this year's Defense Authorization bill, let's keep at the forefront of our conversation the men and women who are heroically offering themselves, and indeed their very lives on some occasions, to protect against the threats to our country. Let's work in good faith to get this bipartisan bill passed soon.