States Look for Ways to Support Military Families
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2004 Big or small, many deployed troops or few, states' concerns for the families of deployed service members are very similar.
Joint hearings with the Senate Personnel and Children and Families subcommittees were held July 21 to determine what state governments are doing in support of the families who face unique challenges because of deployment of a family member.
Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Charles Abell echoed many initiatives discussed during the hearing. "We're busy working every day on programs to assist military families," he said.
DoD is focused on programs that would grant military families in-state tuition based on where they are stationed. There also is a focus on enhancing opportunities for spousal employment to recognize certifications, licenses and qualifications earned in another state and a new initiative to find jobs and rehabilitate disabled veterans. These are only a few of DoD's efforts to support military families that Abell mentioned.
"The key to these programs is communication. We can have the best, most comprehensive programs in the world, but if our military families don't know about them then we really don't have anything," Abell said.
Dissemination of information on the programs is extensive, Abell said, citing Web sites, and print and news media as sources.
Information on "promising practices" is also available on two DoD Web sites. Promising practices identifies programs states have implemented and publishes them so they can be copied or modified for use elsewhere.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander opened the hearing. "We have learned that several of the important issues families struggle with can be more easily addressed by the states and by the governors and across state lines," Alexander, said, adding that considerable progress has been made.
Through similar hearings, education, child care, health insurance and career support for spouses have been identified as top issues for military families.
"The re-enlistment decision will often be made at the kitchen table," Alexander said. "To continue to attract a talented volunteer force, we must make sure our families' needs are addressed."
Alexander expounded briefly on federal measures taken to protect military families eligible for certain federal benefits like the school lunch program and Head Start. An amendment passed ensures these families don't lose their eligibility when a service member receives extra pay for deployment. TriCare health insurance has been expanded to include activated National Guardsmen and reservists.
Nationally, the National Association of Childcare Referral Services has launched Operation Childcare. More than 5,000 child-care providers have pledged free child care to guardsmen and reservists while they're home on leave.
The two states represented at the hearing, Florida and Indiana, have strikingly different military situations. However, they are tackling issues facing military families in strikingly similar ways. The issues at the state level center on education, spouses' career portability, and financial protection and services.
Continuity in school requirements in state-to-state transitions are helping to make moves easier on school-aged children. Both states offer tuition assistance and reimbursement programs to qualified family members. Both also are taking steps to assist with child care.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said his state has also implemented an endorsement program to allow a spouse with previous certification to seek employment in a more timely fashion. And provisions on financial issues that affect service members have been implemented or are being more strictly enforced.
Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan stressed his state is working on family outreach and readiness. It is also asking for longer lead times to allow families to prepare and for shorter deployments nine months instead of 12 months. Kernan said that with the necessary training included, some deployments are stretching into 14 months.