Tag Archives: Congress

Did You Know? #WayBackWednesday

Did you know, in 1985, the National Military Family Association became the first organization to testify before a Senate subcommittee on the critical issue of health care for military families? But what’s affecting military families in 2014? Find out what pro-military family legislation you should know about.

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Former Association President, Margaret Vinson Hallgren speaks as the late Senator Ted Kennedy listens.

Testimony Countdown: Getting the Military Family Message to Congress

Kathy-testimonyHave you ever been invited to testify before Congress? It’s a rare opportunity, and no matter how many times it happens (30+ times for our Association since Operation Enduring Freedom) it really gets your adrenaline pumping. Our next opportunity is this week—March 26th.

Years of listening to military family concerns, years of becoming experts in military health care, child care, spouse employment, and our premier issue – the well-being of military families- go into crafting our statement. Since last year, we’ve been faced with the threats of sequestration and a proposed budget that asks military families to sacrifice once again. We’ve been asking Congress to remember military families, and to understand that the resources to keep those families ready must be sustained not diminished.

So where do we begin?

  1. We develop our position. We start with our blueprint – the 2014 Legislative and Policy Priorities. We add in the newest information from the budget proposal and analyze the impact it will have on military families. We spend a lot of time in discussion – with other advocates, with subject matter experts. We talk to military families – our volunteers, the ones we interact with on social media. We ask questions through surveys and through our scholarship applications.
  2. We write, rewrite and then rewrite again. All the Government Relations deputy directors – Eileen, Karen and Brooke – have been glued to their keyboards crafting their sections of the testimony for the past two weeks. We worry about writing too much or not writing enough. We need to include enough background to put the issue in context. While I have certain sections to write in my areas of expertise, it’s my job as director to compile all the pieces.
  3. We make tough editing decisions. Our initial document—all 30 pages of it—then went to our Government Relations advisory committee. They all agree it’s too, too long. But what do we leave out??? Joyce Raezer, our Executive Director, and I spent several hours one evening going over the statement line by line to make sure we captured every concept we needed to. Katie, our information manager, did a long distance final edit that (hopefully) captured every typo.
  4. We seal it with a social media kiss. On Friday morning, we declared it “done” and sent the statement on its way to the Subcommittee staff. This year, we’ve incorporated our Communications department more closely into the process. We want military families like yours to know exactly what we are fighting for, and we want to give you the opportunity to raise your voice with us.

I have one thing left to write: my 3-minute oral statement that I’ll give at the hearing. Condensing everything we’ve worked on into a few short minutes will be difficult, but I won’t be alone. Three other members of The Military Coalition will testify alongside me. Those panelists will talk about compensation, health care, and the concerns of the National Guard and Reserve. I’ll use my time to talk about why the savings we get from shopping at the commissary are vital, and how our families rely on family support programs and resources not only during deployment but to empower us during uncertain times. I’ll also reinforce the importance of support for surviving families and for the caregivers of the wounded, ill and injured.

After our statements, we’ll answer questions from the Senators who attend the hearing.

You already know what I’ll say – it’s what you told us to say. We’ve listened, and we’ll make sure that Congress hears you loud and clear on Wednesday and on the days to follow.

You can read our statement on line right after we present it. You can also watch the hearing live online and follow us on Twitter where we’ll be live tweeting throughout the day.

Tomorrow is the day. Will you tune in to see our testimony before Congress?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Special Operations Forces: A War Weary Community Needs Support

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When Secretary Hagel dropped his budget proposals in February, it did not recommend cuts to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). As a spouse who spent over a decade living the Special Operations Forces (SOF) family life, I can say I am relieved that they will not suffer direct budget cuts, but this also carries with it a significant amount of worry. No cuts, means the same or more missions, right?

You see, while SOCOM funds SOF missions, the programs that support families and dependents are provided by the “big” Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. SOCOM’s service members will be equally hurt by low pay raises, decreased Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) and changes to TRICARE. As “big Service” budgets get smaller, and the operational tempo for SOF families continues or increases, where will they get their support?

In 2010, Admiral Eric Olson, then Commander of SOCOM, initiated a study of SOF warriors and their families and was able to document a “fraying” of the force with strong data. Admiral William McRaven turned those concerns into Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF). POTFF primarily helps the service member focus on physical, spiritual, mental, and social issues. Of course, this assists the family as a whole, but POTFF programs aimed at the families are limited because of legal restrictions on who SOCOM can spend money on and how.

I have loved the idea of POTFF since its inception. I was part of those who were studied in 2010. I KNOW this fraying. I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to help future SOF spouses avoid the fraying that I felt for many years.

I am terrified that budget cuts to the programs provided by the Services will devastate everyone, but particularly SOF families because while the war draws down in Afghanistan, the SOF mission does not.

SOF families endure operational tempos and unpredictability in an unending cycle. Resiliency is NOT optional, and it comes at a cost. There were years when I had friends ask me if I was happy, and I could only answer, “I will be, when he’s home.” That routine lasted and lasted–it was the ‘SOF life.’

I can say that I am stronger than I ever imagined I would or could be, but I still cry for the new mom who, despite being a SOF spouse for three years, couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The family programs offered at our installation were stellar, but the amount of people deployed at any given time and in constant rotation needed far more manpower than the military family programs could offer. Our Airman & Family Readiness Center was staffed for the regular Air Force mission, not SOCOM’s.

So, now with Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy budgets shrinking, while SOCOM’s remains unchanged, what happens to those spouses and families? Of the 1% who serve in the military, 67,000 are in SOF units – a remarkably small, but growing number. The vision for the future of SOF is one of expansion. The stress will not decrease for these families. They have not and will not get a break. Our SOF families NEED adequate support for their growing missions from the Services, Defense Department, and Congress.

We are war weary – don’t forget us and the unique mission our service members provide within the military community.

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Some are All Talk…We’re Not!

Girl-with-Yellow-Ribbon“Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We fight to protect the programs and services that allow them to meet the challenges of military life and maintain readiness. Our Nation’s leaders cannot ignore the promises they made to those currently serving as they prepare to shape the force of the future.”

Each year, the National Military Family Association develops our Legislative and Policy Priorities list. We don’t do it in a vacuum. We incorporate the concerns we’ve heard from military families. We listen to what our volunteers are telling us from the field. We look at gaps in legislation that has already been passed. We dust off some issues that we’ve promoted for years. We beat the drum on the need for sustaining the programs military families use that work. We seek advice from our Board of Governors and other experts.

This year we paid special attention to the uproar on social media when the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay was reduced by one percent, as well as when military families were impacted by sequestration and the government shutdown. We heard you loud and clear! Our military families and their service members never fail to answer the call. In return, our government has promised to provide them with the resources to keep them ready. You asked Congress to #KeepYourPromise, and in our priorities, we ask Congress and Department of Defense (DoD) to do just that.

We ask Congress and DoD to guarantee, and sustain, the resources necessary to safeguard the readiness of military families. Like protecting the commissaries, where savings are such an important part of compensation. And ensuring access to high quality health care and preventive health care services. Our families are still healing from over a decade of war – they need medical and non-medical counseling readily available. Our kids have served, too – make sure the schools they go to thrive with help from Impact Aid and DoD grants and supplemental aid. Although the wars are winding down, don’t forget the wounded and their caregivers, who still face the uncertainties of their recoveries or the new realities they must deal with as a family.

There are some areas where the readiness of our military families can be improved and refined. We need more forward motion on standardizing programs for families with special needs across the Services. Enhance the spread of information about tools to help military spouses with education and employment. Some families need to be better equipped to react to the stresses of military life that can result in domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Help them negotiate the confusion of installation, State and Federal agencies. Our survivors need to be able to receive all the benefits they are entitled to – end the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivor Benefit Plan. And how can we better prepare those families who are facing an end to their military service, through their choice or the government’s, while they are still serving? How do we help them negotiate a successful transition to civilian life?

I’ve just given you a quick overview of our priorities’ statement – the Association Legislative and Policy Priorities for for 2014. It gives us a starting point. By no means do we limit our advocacy to these few issues. We expand on it for our statement to the Armed Services Committees. We refine it when necessary to shine a light on a specific issue or policy. Read it over and let us know what you think. And please know that we are always ready to address issues affecting military families as they arise. We fight for you and for all military families.

What would you tell Congress and DoD are most important? What’s your military family story about one of the issues we’ve outlined above?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Losing the Budget Battle Does Not Mean We’ve Lost the War

son-says-goodbye-to-dadSomething happened last week that made military families stand up and say “Don’t you dare!!” That something was the budget deal that provides $6 billion in “sequestration relief” for DoD out of the wallets of our youngest military retirees. As word about the deal spread into the military community, the sound you heard was “Enough!”

What followed was a #KeepYourPromise campaign on Twitter, storm the Hill visits by military associations, and letters and calls to Congressional offices all aimed at persuading Congress to reject the proposed cap on Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) for military retirees under age 62. Despite all the best efforts, the budget bill passed the Senate on December 18.

What should military families do now?

  1. Say Thank You: While too few Members of Congress showed they understood the damage the budget deal would do to the military community, several did and stepped up to fight the COLA cap. They will be our allies in our continued fight, so please send them a thank you letter or email.
  2. Stay Engaged: Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and several other Senators who voted in favor of the budget deal are on record saying they want the Committee to look for ways to eliminate the cap—count those statements as proof that the grassroots efforts were noticed.
  3. Hold Them Accountable: Military families need to help us remind Members of Congress who said they hoped they could find a way to eliminate the cap to do so. Ask your Member, especially if he or she is on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, to encourage the Committee to take up this issue as soon as possible. If your Member voted for the budget deal, give them a chance to make things right.
  4. Expand Your Outreach: Tell your story to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. The commission’s website has a comments section for military families and Commission’s recommendations will be taken seriously.
  5. Keep Telling Your Story: Start each letter to your Member of Congress with “I’m a proud military family member and I VOTE in your state/district.” Enlist your family and civilian friends in this fight to help Congress understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and the need for our Nation’s leaders to keep the promises they made.
  6. Don’t Give Up! The Senate vote this week was only the opening skirmish of a fight we can win if we continue to work together and make our voices heard.

The military spouses who founded our Association walked the halls of Congress for several years before it passed the DoD Survivor Benefit Plan. The elderly retirees who were once denied military health care once they became eligible for Medicare spent almost a decade mobilizing their peers, their associations, and their Members of Congress before getting TRICARE for Life. It took our Association almost eight years to see Congress pass and DoD implement the WIC Overseas program for military families. Our past successes prove that we can do so again IF WE DON’T GIVE UP!

Currently Serving and Retirees – Pay Cuts Affect Us All

Balance-Budget-on-Backs-(2)With the proposed Ryan-Murray budget deal being voted on this week, military retirees are being urged to let their Congressional Members know how the Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) cap on military retired pay will adversely affect them over the course of their retirement. But this is only one part of the Congressional attack on compensation aimed at both the currently-serving and retirees.

Let’s not forget that the other deal announced recently — the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA) — inflicts some pay pain on those currently-serving, which will translate to more pain when they retire. Our active duty service members should be getting a 1.8 percent pay raise, but the NDAA provides only a 1 percent raise.

And, oh by the way, in 2014, retirees will receive their full 1.7 percent COLA. The phase-in of the reduction in the COLA for retirees ages 62 and under, called for in the budget bill, doesn’t start until 2015 and will happen over 3 years. Projections on active duty pay call for smaller raises than the civilian wage increase during that time. So even if the phase-in of the reduced retired pay goes into effect, those currently serving will probably receive a few smaller pay increases than retirees. And remember, smaller active duty pay raises translate into lower retiree pay when that active duty member retires.

Congressional decisions are spreading the pain to all military people in a way disproportionate to the rest of the Nation. We firmly believe the changes in pay and retirement should not have been done piecemeal by Congress without waiting for the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, established to study compensation and retirement.

We can’t talk about the harm to one group of our community without talking about the damage long term to the folks serving now if they’re denied the pay raises equal to civilian wage growth. The families of our future retirees are getting a double whammy–one punch is the lower pay raise now and the other is the lower retiree COLAs in the future. At least there will be a catch-up for the retirees when they turn 62. There’s no catch-up on active duty pay losses.

Let’s make our leaders understand the effects these deals AND continued sequestration are having on all military people.

Let Congress know that budgets should not be balanced on the backs of those who have already given so much. Despite the urgency on the budget bill, we need to focus on the effects to entire life cycle of service – from currently serving to retired. Write your Members of Congress and let them know how you feel.

And, on another note, with these hits to military families’ wallets, commissary savings become even more important! We continue to urge the Department of Defense to preserve the commissary system and the savings it provides.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

Get the Facts on the 2013 Government Shutdown

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Our Association has been tirelessly demanding Congress does its job. As part of our #EndSequestration campaign, we stormed Capitol Hill and took your concerns to the ears of our Nation’s lawmakers.

At 12:00am on October 1, 2013, those very same lawmakers shut it down.

No deal. The government shut down.

What does this mean for you and your military family?

Our Association is bringing all the facts to you on our website. While information is always changing, and new information is coming to the surface, we are working around the clock to make sure your questions, comments, Facebook messages, and tweets are answered!

If you want to know how the government shutdown will affect you, and get the most up-to-date information, visit our government shutdown page or join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

The Lesser of Many Evils

govt-shutdownMy, how expectations have fallen in recent years!! When I started working for the National Military Family Association in the mid-1990s (yes, I’m old and feeling older by the minute), I learned about budget cycles, fiscal years, and the requirement that appropriations bills for a new fiscal year should be signed into law BEFORE THE YEAR STARTED on October 1. I was also told that, even if Congress didn’t get all the appropriations bills passed on time, the expectation was that Members of the House of Representatives and Senate would never want to put our military at risk by failing to provide the authority and the money on time to protect our national security.

Why is passing a Defense budget on time so important? If an appropriations bill isn’t passed by the start of a new Fiscal Year (FY), the Department of Defense (DoD) must face the possibility of several evils. One evil is a Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the government at the previous year’s level for a certain period of time. Continuing Resolutions are bad because they don’t account for different priorities in the current year and so too much money might be available for things that aren’t needed anymore, but not enough for current needs. Also, the money is only allocated for the period covered by the Continuing Resolution. That means agencies only get a portion of their whole budget and no long-term projects, such as construction, can be started.

Contrary to the expectations we used to have about DoD getting its funding bill on time, DoD has had to operate under a CR for at least part of the year for all but one of the last five years. FY 2010 was the last time DoD had its appropriations at the beginning of the year. This year, DoD didn’t get an appropriations until March 26—halfway through the fiscal year!

I’ve talked a lot in this space about the evils of sequestration—and I’ve heard plenty from military families about its effects. Another Continuing Resolution will continue sequestration AND make it more difficult for DoD to put limited money where it’s most needed.

But as bad as the evils of Continuing Resolutions and sequestration are, we’re coming close to a situation where a CR is actually the lesser evil. If Congress can’t pass—and the President sign—a CR by midnight, September 30, the government will shut down. The military hasn’t been affected by a shutdown in a while—it could operate during the last one in 1996 because its funding bill had passed. But, we’ve come close to a shutdown in recent years and military families are understandably concerned about what might happen next week. How did we get in a situation where temporary funding—the lesser of many evils—is seen as the best our Nation’s leaders can do?

We’re gathering information about what resources will be available for military families in case of a government shutdown. Military families want to know whether their service member will be paid on time and where they will go for help if they don’t get paid. We’re asking whether military hospitals will be open or whether their civilian doctors will still treat TRICARE patients. Military families want to know whether their commissary, child care facility, or DoD school will be open. Be sure to check our Government Shutdown web page for regular updates and resources.

What do you want to know about a shutdown? We’ll ask and keep you informed.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

On the Hill: Calling on Congress to end sequestration

Morning-Brief1Last week, on September 12, the National Military Family Association was joined by more than fifty staff, Board members, Volunteers and dedicated partners in our fight to #EndSequestration.

The #EndSequestration Team met at our headquarters in Alexandria, VA where they received matching t-shirts, a bag containing our freshly printed books, and receive a brief on the day’s events. Donning bright blue t-shirts with the words “#EndSequestration” on the back, the team boarded a bus and headed to Capitol Hill.

Following in the footsteps of our founding mothers, we divided into teams and headed to meet with all 535 Members of Congress to hand deliver our #EndSequestration book. We met with several Members of Congress, military and defense legislative assistants, and other staffers along the way.

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The message was clear – the short-term impact of sequestration hurts military families, yet the long term consequences will be catastrophic.

Our #EndSequestration team reflected on their experiences of the day and shared the following:

Chairman of the Board Mary Scott, an Army spouse and mother of six children, who have all served in the military, stated , “I am very proud of [our] efforts in organizing this event. If we are who we say we are – strong advocates for military families – we must be willing to present their needs and challenges directly to those who can make a difference. This effort, on behalf of those we serve, delivered a powerful message in a personal way. I was very proud to introduce myself as a military family member and a representative of the National Military Family Association.”

Association volunteer Alicia McAfee said her first-hand experience advocating for military families left her optimistic that the unraveling yellow ribbon of support can be restored to its full potential.

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“Every office we visited was very welcoming. I definitely believe our voices were heard. I’m optimistic that the unraveling yellow ribbon of support can be restored to its full potential. It was encouraging to have other people on the Hill comment on our t-shirts and thank us for our efforts to end sequestration,” McAfee said after arriving back at our headquarters on Thursday.

After three dedicated hours of storming the Hill, we headed back to the bus to return to our headquarters. Some felt empowered; others hoped they did enough to get our message across. But all were appreciative to have this direct experience with the legislative process. This is the very foundation on which our government operates – by the people, for the people. And change doesn’t happen unless the people make their voices heard.

Delivering the albums to Congress is the beginning of the battle. We know we raised awareness about the concerns military families have about the long-term impact of sequestration. We will continue to demand that Congress keep their promises to our service members and their families by working to #EndSequestration.

Together we’re stronger.

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Association Takes the #EndSequestration Case to Congress

Storm-Capitol-HillToday, September 12, more than fifty National Military Family Association staff, Board members, Volunteers, and friends head to Capitol Hill to let our elected leaders know how sequestration is hurting our Nation’s military families. Last month, we asked families to send us photos and stories highlighting the difficulties they’ve faced as they’ve experienced sequestration in their communities.

Military families from all over the world showed us sequestration means more difficulty in getting care for their sick child, delays in arranging moves or in processing changes in pay, and reduced training time for the service member. As they encountered these hardships, military families also shared how much their service members’ ability to protect our Nation is now at risk.

We compiled families’ sequestration photos and stories into a photo album that we’re delivering to every Member of Congress today.

Our message is simple: The arbitrary, across-the-board cuts caused by sequestration are hurting military families, their communities, and service members’ readiness to perform their mission. Congress must end sequestration!

Military families are taxpayers, too. They understand the Department of Defense must share in efforts to cut government spending. BUT, those cuts must be made in a balanced way that does not impose a disproportionate burden on our military and the people who serve.

Remember, sequestration was intentionally designed to be so devastating to our defense that it would never be allowed to happen.

But it did happen.

Our purpose today is to show our Nation’s leaders the faces devastated by the aftermath of sequestration’s destruction–our military families. We present our photo album as evidence that sequestration is not a painless way to reduce the deficit. The devastation for our military families will be worse every year sequestration continues. It must stop. NOW.

The National Military Family Association thanks the families who shared their sequestration stories and photos. We thank our partners in this effort—Macho Spouse.com, Military Partners and Families Coalition, Military OneClick, Military Spouse Magazine, and Spouse Buzz—for their outreach to military families and for joining us on Capitol Hill today. We appreciate the work of our friends in The Military Coalition to seek an end to sequestration.

Sequestration is unraveling the yellow ribbon of military family support. If our Nation’s leaders allow sequestration to continue, the yellow ribbon will continue to fray. Please keep our military families strong. #EndSequestration!

Together we’re stronger!

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director