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May 23, 2023

Pressley, Watson Coleman, McClellan Unveil Bill to Support Servicemembers with Traction Alopecia

Bill Warns of Risk, Calls to Cover Treatment for Scalp Damage

Bill Text (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), alongside Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Jennifer McClellan (VA-04), and 21 cosponsors introduced the Recognition of Traction Alopecia in Service Women Act of 2023. 

When accessing military hair and grooming standards, the 2020 Defense Advisory Committee on Women in Service (DACOWITS) report identified traction alopecia as an issue among servicewomen. Military grooming standards ensure service members can meet their occupational demands including neatly groomed hair. Adherence to grooming standards can be more complex for servicewomen because of variances in the length, texture, and bulk of their hair. 

The use of tight ponytails, headgear, and chemical hair products, employed by many servicewomen to adhere to military grooming standards, contributes to permanent damage to the hair and scalp.

The Recognition of Traction Alopecia in Service Women Act would amend U.S. Code 1074 C to add traction alopecia and wigs as a covered medical treatment under TRICARE, the uniformed services health care program for active-duty service members. It would also direct the Secretary of Defense to create regulations and training materials warning of the risk of traction alopecia. 

“We must be intentional about creating space and providing medical resources for those of us living with alopecia, and our servicemembers who suffer from traction alopecia are no exception,” said Rep. Pressley. “With the military’s stringent grooming standards contributing to permanent hair and scalp damage for many servicewomen, I am proud to introduce this bill with Reps. Watson Coleman and McClellan to include traction alopecia and wigs as medical treatments for servicemembers and their families.”

“Our brave service members regularly put their lives on the line to defend the country they love,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “When their service causes them harm, as in the case of scalp damage, we have a duty to help make them whole and warn them of the risks. I’m grateful to my colleagues, Ayanna Pressley and Jennifer McClellan for helping me raise attention for this issue and see to it that our service members get the help they need.”

“Black women face a number of difficulties in their professional lives, including those who serve in the armed forces and must adhere to strict military dress and grooming standards,” said Rep. McClellan. “These standards are often incompatible or dismissive of their natural hair, and many Black women service members suffer permanent damage and significant hair loss. I am proud to help introduce the Recognition of Traction Alopecia in Service Women Act, alongside Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman and Ayanna Pressley, to address this disparity, better support our service members of color, and ensure they have access to the medical treatment and resources they need.” 

“The Service Women’s Action Network appreciates the efforts of Representative Watson Coleman and her co-sponsors.  This small amendment to Title 10 on traction alopecia will benefit many people,” said Retired Colonel Lorry Fenner, SWAN’s Director of Government Relations.

A copy of the bill text can be found here.

The Recognition of Traction Alopecia in Service Women Act is cosponsored by Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Alma Adams (NC-12), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Gregory Meeks (NY-05), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Troy Carter (LA-02), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Jonathan Jackson (IL-01), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Kweisi Mfume (MD-07), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Steven Horsford (NV-04), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Stacey Plaskett (Virgin Islands), Danny Davis (IL-07), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Shontel M. Brown (OH-11), and André Carson (IN-07).

Since revealing her alopecia diagnosis, Rep. Pressley has become a leading voice fighting to raise awareness and support for the alopecia community across the nation.

Rep. Pressley is a lead sponsor of the CROWN Act, legislation she led with Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Ilhan Omar (MN-05) that would ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. She delivered a passionate floor speech in support of the CROWN Act prior to its passage in the House in March 2022.

In September 2021, Rep. Pressley and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02) led their colleagues in re-introducing the Wigs as Durable Medical Equipment Act, legislation to help individuals affected by Alopecia Areata and patients with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy by allowing medical wigs and other head coverings to be covered under the Medicare program.

In 2020, the House passed an amendment introduced by Congresswoman Pressley to provide $5 million dollars for the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to fund research on the causes, impacts, and possible treatments of Alopecia areata.