What about Military Families? This Election’s Key Stakeholders Need Answers

By Jeanine Hayden

Jeanine C. Hayden is a contributor for the Cipher Brief. She is on the Board of Governors of the National Military Family Association.

Last week, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump answered questions at the Commander in Chief Forum—designed specifically to allow the candidates a chance to address military family issues as well as those of veterans. But if you tuned in, you know that there was no mention of military families. Some blame the individual candidates, others blame the moderator. However, none of that matters today. What’s important in looking forward is that this key group of constituents—the ones whose lives depend on the decisions made by our next president—have their questions answered.

How can the next administration best support our service members and the families who stand behind them? Last Sunday marked 15 years since the tragedies of September 11. That day brought our country to its knees, and today’s service members have been living in its aftermath—at war—for 15 years. Thousands have died. Tens of thousands have been wounded, both physically and mentally due to post- traumatic stress. The Department of Defense (DoD) reports almost 300,000 American troops are deployed in 250 locations around the world.

How will Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump care for these service members and their families?

What kind of care do they even need?  That one we can answer. What military families need is relief from all the uncertainty that has placed immeasurable stress on our troops and their families.

Uncertainty about the budget
For the past three years, military pay raises have been lower than private sector increases. Meanwhile, military spouses can’t complete their education and find meaningful employment because of frequent moves—sometimes to remote locations– and other unique challenges leaving them with unfinished degrees and an inconsistent resume. The military spouse unemployment rate, according to DoD, is 23 percent. But the under-employment rate is also a major issue.

Uncertainty about deployments

Fifteen years into our nation’s longest war, deployments haven’t slowed down and families are weary. Whether it’s a family’s first deployment or their fifth, the stress takes a toll. When the service member is gone, their family is left behind to live “normally” while worry consumes their days. Then, when the service member returns, he or she struggles to find his or her place again within a family that has been forced to build routines without them.

Uncertainty about whether the programs they rely on will be there when they need them

The Army recently announced that, beginning in October, there will be major cuts to some family support programs. Rather than directing which programs to cut, the Army has told the installation commanders which programs they must keep and then put everything else into bins labeled moderate or low priority.  This means there will be a lack of consistency and standardization of programs across Army installations worldwide. Services that families have come to rely on, such as school liaison officers or spousal employment readiness services, may not be present when the family moves to a new location. Time and again, our troops have articulated that when they’re worried about their families at home, they can’t focus on the job at hand. We hear a lot of talk about readiness, but how can America’s troops be ready for anything when their families are unsupported?

The Commander in Chief Forum was disappointing for those of us hoping for answers (or even demonstrations of interest), but the election is still two months away, which means there’s plenty of time for the candidates to address these issues. We call upon candidates from all parties to outline what they’ll do to ensure the government is doing what it should to keep military families strong.

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