A recent military family summit on Capitol Hill made clear that military families need and want more time to connect with decision-makers.
The summit was hosted by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., co-chairs of the Congressional Military Family Caucus. During separate 75-minute breakout sessions, which focused on children's issues, spouses' issues, service members' issues and veterans' issues, officials were peppered with a steady stream of questions.
In the crowded spouses' session, which focused on employment, education and child care, spouses talked about persistent difficulty getting federal jobs; the perceived reluctance of employers to hire mobile military spouses; problems transferring credits between educational institutions after relocations; difficulties in transferring licenses when moving out of state; insufficient child care and inconsistencies in service policies.
Issues discussed in other breakout sessions ranged from the need for better data collection about military kids' academic achievement to problems accessing specialty health care for special-needs children to the need for standardization of programs among the services to make it easier for families who are not near their service's installation.
A recurring issue is the lack of awareness about programs among service members and family members who need them. Attendees also called for better coordination of military and civilian programs that can help troops and their families.
A Marine captain said he felt the summit was "rushed," with too many scheduled topics shortchanging the discussions. He said attendees were told they were there to express their concerns to leaders, but felt they were getting some "pushback."
But Bishop and others, including Rob Gordon, deputy assistant defense secretary for military and community family policy, said feedback from troops and families about what is important to them is critical as leaders make decisions about budget cuts.
Gordon said the summit was important as a way to start a conversation between families and decision makers in an environment where people can be open and honest about raising issues. Now, Gordon said, it's time to take the questions and concerns back "to the respective leadership to start to address the issues."
He urged families to "connect back" to hold officials accountable in following up.
"We've heard some stories today that need to be fixed in our military community," he said. "If they're having those issues, it means others are having those issues, as well."
We'll be checking back, too.
firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers is the wife of a Navy retiree.
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