Proposed Senate bill aims to curb military spouse unemployment

Brittany Gibson, an Army spouse, interviews for a catering position with FMWR's Food and Beverage Director John Stone on Aug. 28, 2017, at Aliamanu Military Reservation's community center.


By BILL BARTEL | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 3, 2018

SUFFOLK, Va. — Erin Ward figures that during her husband’s 24-year Navy career, she had 15 careers as they moved 19 times before he retired recently.

Financial security was hard to find while raising three children, Ward said. Getting any job or finding one that paid enough was hard when an employer knew you were leaving as soon as your spouse got a new assignment, she said.

“I never really got paid at the level my peers were getting paid because of my lack of time in the industries,” Ward said, joking that she had a “smorgasbord of a resume” before recently finding a more solid career in real estate.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine said Ward’s story, and others told to a packed room of military spouses Friday afternoon, aren’t unique and highlight a major problem.

Studies show that roughly 12 percent to 24 percent of military spouses are unemployed, compared to the 4.1 percent national average, Kaine said. Day care is inconsistent within the military community and the Pentagon doesn’t do enough to promote programs that help spouses find jobs, he said.

“Military spouse unemployment is a military readiness issue, including whether you can retain talent,” Kaine said. Frustration with not finding work “can cause people to leave when they would like to stay.”

The Virginia Democrat has proposed a fix. He’s introducing a bill Tuesday to address several issues, including spouses being given preference for some defense-related jobs and stronger assistance for military families as the service member re-enters civilian life.

Among the proposals are changing federal hiring procedures to expedite hiring of spouses on or near military installations and encouraging private defense contractors to focus more on hiring military spouses. The legislation also asks the Defense Department to study how to expand the awareness of career training programs for spouses of service members.

The Pentagon already has the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts Program, known as MyCAA, but it’s not widely known to many military families, said Taylor Miller, who is married to a Navy lieutenant.

Miller noted that MyCAA helped her get scholarships to pursue a career. “It helps but the problem is most people aren’t aware of it. We need to make sure that mlitary spouses have the exposure,” she said.

Kane’s bill would also expand the Defense Department’s Military OneSource program, which offers confidential assistance and counseling to military families for an array of personal and financial issues related to the military and returning to civilian life.

His proposal also would make Military OneSource available to veterans for up to a year after they retire rather than the current six-month limit.

Ward said the confidential assistance can be a lifeline when you’re adjusting to having your husband home permanently after spending decades with months apart. Veteran families need it for more than six months, she said.

“Transition is a really big deal when you haven’t lived with somebody for 24 years,” she said. “It made me feel really good to pick up a phone and that the help was there.”

Kaine predicted the legislation will get bipartisan support, given that it’s assisting the military. He did not have a cost estimate.

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