It’s a sensitive issue for Commander Naval Forces Japan: What do you do with the mother-in-law?

Finding suitable housing for sailors and their extended families became the basis for a revised policy on command sponsorship earlier this month.

Citing a critical shortage of military family housing in Japan, limited classroom space in Department of Defense Dependents Schools and negative impact on other base support facilities, Adm. Robert Chaplin, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan, said the command sponsorship policy needed to be modified.

“The revised instruction emphasizes the fact that non-command sponsored family members are not authorized to live in government quarters,” Chaplin wrote in a recent article. “And that violation of this instruction … will subject the member and his/her dependants to disciplinary or appropriate administrative action.”

What it comes down to, said Lt. Joe Boveri, deputy force judge advocate for CNFJ, is space.

“What we have is a shortage of large multi-bedroom family units. Sasebo is the worst, then Yokosuka and then Atsugi,” Boveri explained. “We have a critical housing shortage … and we’re trying to move as many people as possible into base housing.”

The problem comes when a servicemember has a spouse, several children and an extended family living under one roof. If that roof is off base, Japanese quarters may be cramped. People then apply for base housing, flooding housing officials with a surplus of requests.

The new command sponsorship regulations, which apply to all Navy active-duty personnel assigned, operating or forward deployed in the CNFJ area of responsibility, aim to curb the number of people per household.

If sailors’ tours in Japan are extended, the rules say, the servicemembers will not qualify for base housing if they have more than three dependents who are, for example, college-age students, parents and grandparents, without a waiver from CNFJ. The new rules say those dependents would have to remain or return stateside or to their homeland, explained Chief Petty Officer Forrest Powell, a Navy career counselor in Sasebo.

“Extended family is pretty much what we are getting at,” Boveri said.

Another stipulation states that dependents remaining with the servicemember must be Tricare-eligible, Powell explained, or they’ll have to purchase and maintain health insurance from the private sector.

Private health insurance can cost a family as much as $5,000 per year, Powell added.

Proof of current health-care insurance will now be required for family members requesting command sponsorship, as well as those family members previously approved who are not eligible for Tricare.

“There has been a problem for a number of years with non-Tricare-eligible dependents,” Boveri said. “Those dependants will be seen at the hospital, but they will also be referred off base for medical services, as other Tricare-eligible individuals are.”

Tricare-eligible individuals who are referred off base for more complicated issues, of course, have insurance coverage from Tricare pay for it.

“What we’ve run into is we have hospitals out in town that the non-insured folks have gone to, and they’ve run up extensive bills, and the individual simply can’t pay for it,” Boveri explained. “So, the hospital … comes to the Navy. We have large bills … and we’ve got this policy now that says you must have insurance to live here, because we can’t continue to use our taxpayer dollars to pay your insurance bills.”

Sponsors requesting dependent coverage will be required to provide copies of passports with country entry dates for noncommand-sponsored dependents, as well as signed statements attesting to the fact that noncommand-sponsored dependents are not residing in government housing, according to Chaplin. Noncommand-sponsored family members are not authorized to live in government quarters.

Boveri said the problems with extended family living on a base are not severe at stateside facilities.

“Back in the States, you can have extended family. You can have dependents that are not Tricare-eligible. But you also live in an environment and culture that helps diffuse the impact on the service of having large or extended families living with you,” he explained.

“You have a school system that is public where we spread out our dependents, and a private school system in CONUS that people can go into, and there’s a hospital system.”

He said because extended families are accepted culturally and there are more options for off-base housing in the States, large family units don’t affect the installations there.

Boveri describes the predicament for the Navy as “tooth and tail.” The “tooth” represents the fighting force, and the “tail” symbolizes the support elements.

“We’re trying to maintain the quality of life that people have become accustomed to, and also trying to minimize the growth of this tail on this dragon, while preserving our focus on the fighting Forward-Deployed Naval Forces,” he explained.

For details about the new regulation, Navy personnel should consult their command career counselor.

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