Perhaps promises will finally become policy
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: January 12, 2018
There is a seldom-opened drawer in our file cabinet that contains the only tangible evidence of my legal career. The musty hanging folders have labels such as “Résumés,” “Licensing” and “Writing Samples.” Even though none of these documents have been used since I had to stop working as a litigation attorney in the late ’90s to move overseas with my Navy husband, I refuse to throw them away.
I tell myself that I need the files in case a career opportunity presents itself. But I know I’m really just keeping the yellowed pages as proof that I once did more than make sandwiches and clean toilets.
Like many military spouses, moving every few years killed my career.
I eventually found work as a writer to accommodate our mobile military lifestyle. But frankly I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to adequately utilize the law degree that took three years and more than $90,000 in student loans to earn, and the Pennsylvania law license that required countless hours of bar exam studying to acquire. Although I’m proud to have put my earning potential aside so my husband could serve his country, I regret that military life often requires spouses to sacrifice employment and education.
The most recent Blue Star Military Family Lifestyle Survey shows that 47 percent of military spouses with children under 18 earn an income, while two-thirds of their civilian counterparts are employed. Of the military spouses who are employed, more than half earn less than $20,000 a year and one-third earn less than $10,000. Adding to employment challenges, two-thirds of military families report that child care is a consistent problem.
The drastic drawdown of military forces combined with increased optempo has meant that active-duty members deploy more often and for longer periods. Spouses are understandably worried about employment, the impact of military life on their children and the cohesion of their families. Not surprisingly, the survey indicates that nearly a quarter of military spouses have been diagnosed with depression.
But it was the following survey result that got the attention of the Department of Defense: For the third year in a row, military families are less likely to recommend military service to their children. With an all-volunteer force that comes primarily from military families, this is a major concern.
Perhaps this is why the Pentagon is finally considering new policies for 2018. Robert Wilkie, a military brat and veteran, recently was appointed to the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, a position that has been neglected in recent years. In a Dec. 27 newspaper interview, Wilkie said the Pentagon is considering allowing military families to stay put for longer than two or three years. He criticized the current system, which makes constant movement a hallmark of military life. “It was built at a time when less than 10 percent of the military had families,” Wilkie said. “Today, 70 percent have families . . . If the families aren’t happy, the soldier walks.”
The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aims to ease the burdens on military families. Signed Dec. 12, the NDAA promises the highest military pay raise since 2010, a rebate of up to $500 for military spouses who apply for new employment licenses after PCS moves, appointment of quality child care providers when needed, a new policy allowing military families to move before or after servicemembers change duty stations to accommodate school and work schedules, and 20,300 more troops to ease deployment demands.
Sounds great, but when will this become policy? President Trump might have signed the new $700 billion NDAA, but it won’t take effect until Congress passes a bill to fund it. In the meantime, as sequestration looms, the 2017 budget has been extended until Jan. 19.
The old résumés in my file cabinet might never see the light, but this week, I hope Congress will follow through on its promise to make life better for military spouses.