Spouses and family members from the 606th Air Control Squadron listen to a brief during a spouse day in 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Spouses and family members from the 606th Air Control Squadron listen to a brief during a spouse day in 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. (Heidi Goodsell/U.S. Air Force)

A retired Army general now serving as a House lawmaker argued Wednesday that a military spouse’s struggle to have a fulfilling career is just part of the sacrifice of a family in the service and doesn’t need protection.

“We cannot fashion our decisions on national security based on the individual needs of people that signed up of their own volition for a job that they wanted to pursue,” Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee. “We’re happy that they want to serve. We’re happy that they want to sacrifice, but that’s what comes with the territory. If that’s not for you, we need insurance salesmen and we need people to clean pools and we need all kinds of things in America.”

Perry, whose district includes the Army’s Carlisle Barracks, made the comments during the committee’s debate about a bill that would offer military spouses working for the federal government flexibility during military-mandated moves. He first enlisted in the Army in 1980 and retired in 2019 as a one-star general in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, a committee member who sponsored the bill alongside Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said she expected the committee would at least agree with the idea of supporting military families.

“We need to do everything that we can for the best military that we have, and that means supporting them in whatever capacity we can, and it starts with this bill,” she said.

The Resilient Employment and Authorization Determination to Increase National Employment of Serving Spouses Act, or READINESS Act, allows for spouses preparing to move with their service member to request a determination about whether their job can be completed remotely on a temporary basis, be reassigned to the new duty station or be transferred to a comparable job.

If none of these options fit, the bill allows the employee to go into nonpay status for up to six months. The spouse would retain their nonfinancial benefits while their employer would be allowed to fill the position. The measure would also apply to spouses of foreign service employees.

Other opposition, all of which came from Republicans on the committee, included an argument from Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, that this bill primarily helps “government bureaucrats.”

“I think we’re going down a dangerous precedent when we begin to say that federal bureaucrats’ jobs are guaranteed for life,” he said.

Maria Donnelly, an Army spouse who has worked with other spouses to get this bill into Congress, watched the hearing online and said Perry’s comments are built upon harmful and outdated stereotypes, while Cloud ignored the hundreds of spouses who work as Defense Department civilians supporting warfighting efforts.

“We marry our spouses because we love them and supporting them should not come at an unmanageable cost,” she said. “Most families in the United States need two incomes to survive, and military families are no different. Moreover, employing spouses is a much easier, much cheaper way to help military families — the other option to retain military service members is retention bonuses or increased pay.”

Emmalee Gruesen, a Navy spouse also involved with the bill, said they plan to reach out to Perry’s office to discuss the importance of financial stability for military families.

“The service chiefs have repeatedly tied service members’ familial stability to their military readiness, whether it be spouse employment, child care, housing, health care, etc. The READINESS Act is therefore aptly titled,” she said.

Unemployment among military spouses is about 21%, according to the Defense Department. It’s hovered at about that mark for more than a decade, despite millions of dollars spent to address the issue. The White House estimated about 16,000 military spouses work for the federal government, though the statistic is not well tracked.

Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, said just because a military spouse is not currently a federal employee doesn’t mean the benefit would never apply to them.

“Just because you’re not using a particular benefit at a particular time, doesn’t mean that the benefit is not available to you,” he said. “It seems to me that the logic of the legislation is airtight. It’s for people who are being suddenly and often involuntarily deployed or redeployed around the world — who make the decision to serve the country in this way — to allow their spouses to continue to pursue their employment, their livelihood and support their families.”

The bill passed through the committee Wednesday on a vote of 30-13, with all Democrats in support alongside 10 Republicans, including Committee Chairman James Comer of Kentucky.

However, Cloud and other Republicans were able to add an amendment to exempt any employees working in a diversity, equity and inclusion office from receiving the benefit. Crockett called the amendment a “poison pill.”

The bill now awaits a vote from the full House or possible addition to the National Defense Authorization Act, annual legislation to outline defense spending and priorities. A companion bill was introduced in December in the Senate.

“Despite some attempts from the other side to inject politics into an issue with broad bipartisan support, this vote is a victory not just for our military and foreign service spouses, but to our service members, our military readiness and our national security,” Crockett said in a statement after the hearing. “In what is perhaps the most dangerous moment in geopolitical history since the Cold War, any issues that lead to poor retention in our armed forces and foreign service should be considered a matter of utmost priority.”

author picture
Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now