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Second lady discusses employment challenges with military spouses in Japan

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, speaks to U.S. military spouses at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

THERON GODBOLD/STARS AND STRIPES

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 13, 2018

TOKYO – Federal agencies are looking at ways for more military spouses to do government jobs from home, second lady Karen Pence told a group of servicemembers’ husbands and wives in the Japanese capital Tuesday.

Vice President Mike Pence’s wife – who is accompanying her husband on a tour that will include the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit this weekend in Papua New Guinea – met with a few dozen of the more than 16,000 Japan-based U.S. military spouses at the home of Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty.

Standing in a room where Gen. Douglas MacArthur and former Japanese Emperor Hirohito once met after World War II, Karen Pence told the spouses they play a significant role in the defense of their nation.

“The strength of our country doesn’t just depend on the people in uniform who fight to protect our freedom,” she said. “The spouses and families who serve alongside them also make sacrifices.”

Pence – the daughter of an airman and mother of a Marine – said she held her first listening session with military spouses in Japan last year aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and has met many more since.

Employment is one of their top concerns, she said. When servicemembers change duty station every two to three years, their spouses often must obtain new local certifications in order to work.

“By the time they get that done, employers don’t want to hire them because they know they will be leaving in a year,” she said.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 allowed servicemembers to claim up to $500 in reimbursements if a spouse must relicense or recertify to seek employment when they change duty stations, Pence said.

In May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to look for ways for military spouses to keep their jobs when they move. That may include opportunities for them to work remotely from home, Pence said.

The government has been talking about the issue with companies such as Microsoft, Booz Allen Hamilton and employment website LinkedIn, which is giving military spouses a year’s free access to its premier service each time they change duty stations, she said.

R. Riveter – short for Rosie the Riveter of World War II fame – employs military spouses to make handbags and other items, Pence said. They craft parts for the products at home that are mailed to a factory for assembly.

Pence also spoke to the spouses about art therapy, something she thinks could help servicemembers dealing with service-related traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The counseling is based on the belief that "the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight," according to the American Art Therapy Association.

Pence said she has met with Thomas DeGraba, a neurologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, who has shown that the therapy lowers anxiety levels for soldiers.

She also spoke about former Marine sergeant and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Chris Stowe, who benefited from the therapy.

Stowe, who runs a glass-blowing factory in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he teaches other veterans to work with glass, told Pence the treatment for anxiety, depression and anger he experienced after being exposed to blasts in combat “didn’t sound like something a big tough Marine would want to do” but that it gave him his life back, she said.

“Please reach out to an art therapist if you have that issue,” Pence told the military spouses.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1
 

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, speaks to U.S. military spouses at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.
THERON GODBOLD/STARS AND STRIPES

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