Officials Seek Extended Authority for Quality-of-life Construction
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 23, 2009 An extension of a law that authorizes minor and quick construction of military facilities would give servicemembers better options in child care and fitness centers, a Pentagon official told a congressional panel yesterday.
Arthur Myers, the Defense Department’s principal director of military community and family policy, made the request of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee while he and the services’ top noncommissioned officers testified before the subcommittee to share information about military family programs.
Myers said the original, though temporary, construction authority allowed for the speedy addition of 15,000 spaces in the military child care system.
“To meet our goals for child care and to keep our members fit to fight and win, we require similar authority for fitness centers and for child care for children through 12 years of age,” Myers said. “We need to extend the authority, which ends this fiscal year, though fiscal … 2012, and also increase the project threshold to $15 million.”
Myers went on to tell the subcommittee about his office’s Military OneSource program, which provides face-to-face, nonmedical counseling for military members and their families. It also offers financial assistance and health and wellness coaching.
In addition, the Military Community and Family Policy office is helping military spouses develop portable careers by offering career advancement accounts for credentialing and licensure, he said. To date, more than 34,000 spouses have established accounts through the initiative, which began in March. More than half of those who have started training are seeking careers in health professions, he said.
Myers went on to thank the Congress members for legislation to help military children with autism and asked for their support to expand this attention to all military families with special needs – those with a medical or educational need requiring specific and specialized services for an extended time.
“Military families with special needs encounter multiple challenges navigating the maze of health care, education, and community support services … each time they move,” he said.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy told the subcommittee that officials have identified more than 14,000 Air Force families with special needs, and that SAir Force leaders are aware of the challenges military families with special needs face when moving.
“We have a good process for identifying families and facilitating personnel moves and assignments based on a special needs family’s requirement,” he said. “However, we have determined the need for a companion program to provide family support as they move from location to location.”
Recent Air Force initiatives have concentrated on expanding child care capacity, increasing child care for reserve component members, improving financial readiness and education and development opportunities for spouses and children, Roy added. This includes working to ensure all credits students earn in one school will transfer and count toward graduation at another.
Soldiers and family members routinely list access to quality medical care as their biggest concern, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston said. One of the major challenges to getting that care is finding sufficient health care providers away from military installations who accept payment from the military’s Tricare health plan.
“As one health care provider said, ‘I take Tricare cases out of charity to help the services,’” Preston said. A shortage of health care providers in remote locations hurts soldiers and their families, he said.
“While Tricare is meeting their established standards for care available, I recommend a review of those standards to ensure they meet the needs of soldiers and families serving today at a higher operational pace,” Preston told the House panel.
In 2007, the Army launched the Army Family Covenant, which Preston called the centerpiece of the service’s commitment to soldiers and their families. The Army Community Covenant followed a year later. Both of the initiatives institutionalize and fund the programs supporting soldiers and their families, he explained.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West acknowledged the link between the safety, security and well-being of Navy families and their sailors’ ability to execute the mission.
“It’s a function of leadership to ensure our families are given the kind of quality service they deserve,” West said. “We must inform and educate them as to the resources that are available.
“In doing so,” he added, “our sailors have peace of mind and the ability to focus on their job knowing their families are safe and secure.”
The Navy has programs in place to assist families in almost any situation, West said, and great strides have been made to improve these family programs and communicate the efforts to the families.
“We must continue to ensure that every family member knows where to find information about emergency preparedness and other programs that encourage family readiness,” he said.
Marine Corps families have a reasonable expectation that the Corps and the nation will take care of them, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton Kent said, quoting the Marine Corps commandant.
“These [family] programs are critical to addressing the quality-of-life needs of our families,” Kent said. “I firmly believe that the well-being of the Marines and their families have an impact on the readiness and the retention of our Corps.”
National Guard and reserve families face some different issues from their active-duty counterparts, said Air Force Col. Cory Lyman, assistant director of individual and family support policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Management and Personnel.
“Guard and reserve families are community-based and connected, Lyman said. “They’re also dispersed geographically across some 4,000 communities nationwide.”
This can cause unique challenges and opportunities, but the Defense Department is committed to supporting these reserve component members and their families through initiatives like the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, Lyman said.
“This program is focused on the reserve-component member, and it works hand in hand with the family program to enhance family readiness and helps to smooth many of the potential challenges of military deployments,” he said.
“The department is committed to the success of this Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program and … we will continue to collaborate with the many agencies and programs that help deliver critical family program and Yellow Ribbon resources.”