DoD Forum to Spotlight Military Families
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 24, 2000 A first-of-its-kind Military Family Forum, hosted by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, is slated May 31 at the Pentagon.
About 100 military family members, 68 active duty and 32 reserve, from throughout the services will meet with the Cohens and top defense leaders. DoD officials say the day- long conference is designed to promote grassroots communication and exchange quality of life "best practices" around the globe.
Good quality of life is essential to military morale and readiness, according to Cohen. DoD's overall goal is to build strong, cohesive communities and career commitment. DoD's challenge is to balance mission demands with support programs that provide respite, build morale and develop a strong sense of community.
The forum provides family members an opportunity to talk directly to the secretary and his wife. Forum topics include health care, housing, pay and compensation, child and youth services, education, operations tempo, spousal employment, family support and readiness, relocation, and retiree and survivor benefits.
The conference will underscore quality of life achievements to date and focus attention on some key challenges facing the military. The forum will conclude with a dinner for the family members hosted by the Cohens and attended by members of Congress.
DoD's Office of Family Policy recently compiled statistics giving an overview of the "military family." Officials said the data show much progress has been made in the area of child care and other family concerns, but much more remains to be done.
- About 55 percent of the military's 1.4 million active duty members are married, and about 46 percent of active duty members have children.
- Nearly 40 percent of the nearly 1.3 million children with military parents are under age 6.
- Military members marry and have children younger than civilian counterparts, DoD officials said.
- About 6 percent of active duty members are single parents. About 8 percent provide some level of support for elder relatives.
- Commanders responding to an August 1999 DoD survey rated financial management, indebtedness, spousal employment, parenting skills and spousal abuse as their top family support concerns.
- While U.S. military forces are located throughout the world, about 82 percent are stationed within the United States. Nearly 56 percent of active duty members in the United States live off base; about 63 percent of those overseas live on base.
- A 1998 Rand Corp. study concluded that one-fifth of enlisted service members felt financially squeezed. One- quarter of enlisted personnel reported having received food stamps, welfare or other public assistance in the past year.
- DoD officials say spousal employment affects retention, the need for child care, and the need for relocation and financial management assistance. About 63 percent of junior enlisted spouses work outside the home, most say to provide basic necessities.
- Military families move twice as often as civilian counterparts, and the government typically reimburses them only half to two-thirds of the costs they incur.
- More than 100,000 family members with special health or educational needs are enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program.
- About 10,000 children receive special education services from DoD schools; another 2,000 developmentally delayed infants and toddlers participate in early intervention programs.
In his 1999 Military Family Week message President Clinton said: "Our military families are the heart of our nation's armed forces." DoD officials said the military family forum is an opportunity for military families to be heard.
DoD Family Forum Web site [link no longer available]