Tag Archives: Congress

Advocacy on Capitol Hill: a military spouse’s perspective on speaking up for her own

Advocacy on Capitol Hill: a military spouse's perspective on speaking up for her ownFor more than 44 years our staff and volunteers, comprised mostly of military family members, have built a reputation for being the leading experts on military family issues. I had the pleasure of joining the Association’s Government Relations team last summer when my husband and I PCSed into the Washington D.C. area. As an active-duty military spouse, I have a vested interest in our unique population and hope to shed light on just one exciting facet of this position.

Currently, I am working with the offices of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Representative Matt Cartwright (D-17th/PA), and Representative Rob Wittman (R-1st/VA) to support legislation titled Military Spouse Job Continuity Act. This legislation provides a tax credit to a military spouse to offset the cost of a new state-required license after a government-ordered move. Not only do we support federal legislation, but we also work to support military spouse licensing on the state level. Our Association believes that state legislation can expedite the employment process and Congress can alleviate the financial burden with a tax credit.

Looking at my portfolio for the Association, I focus on quality of life issues that pertain to military spouse education, employment, credentialing, financial literacy, commissaries, exchange, relocation, housing, and military construction.

I truly enjoy working with different Congressional offices to discuss issues of importance to military families. The past several weeks have been very busy! I have had the unique pleasure of visiting Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional staff from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Our Association’s accomplishments have made us a trusted resource for families and the Nation’s leaders. I look forward to visiting and working with other Congressional offices to ensure that our military families are taken care of and help communicate the stories that we hear from military families that are located around the world.

Continue to follow our Association’s advocacy work on our website, here on our blog (subscribe at top right!), and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

ccPosted by Christine Gallagher, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Infographic: sequestration + military families

Throughout the process of anticipating and now feeling the effects of sequestration, military families have had many questions and concerns.  Our Association staff has worked hard to address a lot of the rumors around the situation, but another way to speak out is to continue to talk about the way our leaders’ hesitance will cut military families to the core.

We’ve written open letters to the President and to Congress, but one of the most effective ways we’ve spread this message is our online community sharing important facts with their own networks of military and civilian friends.

Here are all our infographics in one place. Let’s continue to share these startling facts and keep the conversation going. We won’t stop talking about it until our leaders reach an agreement and keep the promises made to military families and we hope you won’t either!

government enemy

dod budget

army flight hours

civilian workforce

navy maintenance

TRICARE shortfall

NG medical

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 3

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 3This is Part 3 of a series explaining the National Military Family Association’s legislative priorities for 2013. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Some issues affecting military families can only be taken care of through Congressional action. We see most of the work on these issues being addressed through the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets the laws and regulations for Department of Defense (DoD) and the Services to follow. The funding of this legislation comes through the House and Senate Appropriations Committees with the Defense Appropriations bill and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.

Congress did not pass the Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13), which began on October 1, 2012. They passed a Continuing Resolution or CR, which forced DoD to work on 2013 missions, projects, and programs with 2012 levels of funding. The current Continuing Resolution will expire March 27. While military paychecks are protected for 2013, essential services could shut down if the CR is allowed to expire. This isn’t the first year we have had the threat of a government shutdown.

Pass the NDAA FY14

This is why our first “ask” for Congress is to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for FY14 and the bills that fund this legislation by October 1 in order to eliminate the uncertainty faced by the military community.

Increase Impact Aid

If you have children attending public schools, you should be aware of how important Impact Aid funding is to local school districts that educate large numbers of military children. We’re asking Congress to increase the level of Department of Education Impact Aid funding to meet the Federal obligation to support school districts educating military children and continue to fund the DoD supplemental impact aid and grant program. Impact Aid funding has not kept pace with rising education costs.

Protect surviving spouses

Survivors of service members who have died on active duty or from a service-connected disability are unfairly penalized by having their Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity offset by the Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payment. Under current law, survivors who are eligible for both SBP and DIC must forfeit a dollar of their SBP annuity for every dollar of DIC received. Often the offset eliminates the SBP annuity altogether. We ask Congress to end the DIC dollar for dollar offset of SBP payments for surviving spouses. For more details on this issue, visit the Survivors section on our website.

Ease transitions for the whole family

DoD does not always need Congressional approval to improve or change policies. We are asking DoD to address the informational needs of military families transitioning out of the military by expanding the opportunity for spouses to attend transition classes with service members and tailor information to address family transition issues.

Support families with special needs

It can often take DoD a long time to implement programs mandated by Congress. In the NDAA FY13, Congress charged DoD to start a pilot program to provide therapy for some families with special needs. We want DoD to implement the new pilot program to provide Applied Behavior Analysis to ALL eligible TRICARE beneficiaries.

If you have questions about our priorities for 2013 or would like to provide us with information about how these issues will affect you and your family, please leave a comment below. As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog series, we are sharing your stories, your experiences, and your suggestions to improve the quality of life for military families.

These are not the only issues we will be advocating for. When a new challenge surfaces that affects military families, we will make sure it is brought to the attention of the policymakers who can make a difference. We are listening to you and for you. We are your voice.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 2

We fight for military families: the Association's 2013 priorities, Part 2Yesterday we covered how we determine our legislative focus for the year. Today, Part 2 in our series on explaining our priorities for 2013.

This is the time of year we develop our list of priorities to share with policymakers. What needs to be done to make the benefits and programs that military families depend on more responsive to their needs right now and for the long term? What can the Department of Defense (DoD) do to improve or refine military family access to health care and mental health support? How can the schools our children attend better serve the needs of a mobile population in a time of diminishing school budgets? Why doesn’t the expansion of spouse career opportunities go hand in hand with quality, affordable child care? What support does a grateful Nation owe wounded service members, their caregivers, and the survivors of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice? How can DoD help those service members and families who are transitioning to civilian life?

Here’s the first part of our list of priorities – the priorities we will address to Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Services. Not all issues need to be addressed by legislation. Sometimes Congress asks for a report on how a program is working or to find out how a specific need is being addressed. While DoD may have policy jurisdiction, Congress – through language in the National Defense Authorization Act – can mandate that DoD take a certain action. That’s why we address these priorities to both Congress and DoD.

  • Ensure families of all seven Uniformed Services have timely access to high quality, affordable health care and a robust TRICARE benefit.
  • Enhance military families’ access to the medical and non-medical counseling they need to recover from the stress of long years at war. The progress made in lessening the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care is threatened if service members and families cannot get help when needed.
  • Mandate tracking and reporting on military family member suicides. Anecdotal reports indicate the number of military family suicides is growing. We cannot address the problem until we know its extent.
  • Ensure that a robust, responsive system of reintegration support for families still trying to reconnect or deal with the effects of wounds, injuries, or illnesses is accessible across Services, components, and geographic locations.
  • Provide equal eligibility of benefits for caregivers of wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans across all seven Uniformed Services and from all wars. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and DoD caregiver benefits don’t mesh and many caregivers lose the support they need just when they need it the most.
  • Ensure better cooperation and accountability between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs at the highest levels in the support of transitioning wounded, ill, and injured and care givers. The lack of a seamless transition between agencies still exists and must be corrected.
  • Protect the commissary benefit by continuing the annual appropriation to support the system at its current level. Commissaries provide an important benefit for military families as well as a good deal for the taxpayer. Oppose attempts to consolidate the commissary and exchange system.

Do these resonate with what you are experiencing as a military family? What are your priorities for Congress and DoD for 2013?

Tomorrow’s post, Part 3 in this series, will look at the rest of our priorities for 2013. Read Part 1 here.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 1

We fight for military families: the Association's 2013 priorities part 1It’s always nice to know you have someone in your corner, someone you can count on who understands where you are coming from, someone who knows what your life is like, and who will stand beside you as you try to make life better for you and your family. The National Military Family Association is in your corner – in fact, our highest priority is to fight for military families.

We fight to ensure programs and benefits critical to the well-being of military families – our families – are authorized, funded, and implemented to be there when you need them. We know how important they are in maintaining your family readiness and empowering you to meet the challenges of military life.

Each year, at the beginning of the Congressional session, we gather information we have heard from you and develop a list of legislative and policy priorities that we will promote and advocate for on your behalf. Some of these priorities we will bring to the attention of Congress – those items that need legislative changes, updates, or fixes in order to better meet the needs of military families. Some priorities we bring to the attention of the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Services, to recommend changes to policies or regulations to better serve military families.

We use these priorities as a basis for the testimony we prepare for Congressional hearings every year. You can find examples of testimony from previous years on our website. Our testimony is not just a list of requests. We use our testimony to share your story – the story of the Nation’s families. We talk about the importance of the foundation of benefits and programs that military families depend upon: quality, accessible health care; behavioral health support; spouse career opportunities; good schools for military children; quality, affordable child care; a secure retirement; and unwavering support if wounded, widowed, or orphaned.

We talk about what is working for military families – the programs and resources meeting the needs of families most effectively. How do we know? We hear from you. We talk about how programs need to be flexible and accommodate the diversity of military families – whether they are far from the flag pole in recruiting duty or the family of a citizen soldier who lives nowhere near a military installation. We also remind Congress that effective support for military families must involve a broad network of government agencies, community groups, businesses, and concerned citizens. DoD and the Services cannot do it alone.

In our next two posts in this series we will explain and outline our Association’s specific priorities for 2013. Read Part 2 and Part 3 here.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association

The year ahead for the Military Family Readiness Council

The year ahead for the Military Family Readiness CouncilLast week I attended the Congressionally-mandated Department of Defense (DoD) Military Family Readiness Council (MFRC) meeting. Our Association has been invited to have a member sit on the council since its inception in 2009.

The Council consists of senior leadership, senior spouses, and representatives from three military family organizations: Blue Star Families, American Red Cross, and our Association.The MFRC is mandated to meet at least twice a year to review military family policies and programs, monitor implementation, and evaluate the effectiveness of military family readiness programs and the activities of the Defense Department. Each February, the MFRC submits an annual report to Congress highlighting their assessments. The 2012 report will be available after it has been submitted to Congress.

During the meeting, the council members discussed the priorities for 2013. The Council will focus on these areas:

  1. Improving joint-base services. Improving family program integration of Guard and Reserve families 
  2. Coordinate efforts with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Cross Functional Teams:
    - Assess military family needs, reduce duplication, and enhance program effectiveness
    - Strengthen the force and enhance resiliency
    – Public awareness, transition gaps, and building community capacity
  3. Exceptional Family Member Program

The MFRC is just one tool that the Defense Department and the Services use to review and evaluate programs. Our Association will follow the interaction between the MFRC and the new DoD-wide Common Services Task Force.

We realize that family programs will be affected by budget cuts and decrease in deployments, but our government officials must remember that, even with a decrease in deployments, military families rely on family programs to help maintain readiness and handle the challenges they face.

Our Association will fight for those programs that are most beneficial for military families; identifying the most effective programs is an essential part of the process. Redundancies and sometimes-bloated overhead impact the most important aspect of family programs – getting military families the resources and tools they need quickly and effectively.

The National Military Family Association is proud to sit on this council and represent your concerns. We look forward to working with the MFRC and the Task Force and hope that together we can identify those programs that are contributing to the strength and resilience of military families.

If you sat on the Military Family Readiness Council, what would your top three priorities for 2013 be?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association

DoD: we’ll protect family programs… “to the extent feasible”

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When you were a child, how hopeful did you feel when you asked your mom for something and she said “we’ll see”? What’s your reaction when you suggest something to your boss to improve your work place and she says “we’ll try”? How encouraged are you when you ask your spouse to do something and they respond “hold that thought”? When you think about the possibility of checking things off your to-do list, how optimistic are you really if you begin your thoughts with “if the planets align…”?

We’ve talked a lot in this blog space about the budget pressures and uncertainties Department of Defense (DoD) and military families face: from the fiscal cliff to sequestration to the debt ceiling and threatened government shutdown. If you’re as concerned as I am about whether the support programs your military family depends on will be around in the future, then you want reassurance from the DoD. Well here it is, folks.

According to a memo released on January 10 by the Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, DoD will “to the extent feasible, protect family programs.” Secretary Carter’s memo offers needed guidance to the Service Chiefs and DoD agencies on dealing with those challenges and uncertainties, but it doesn’t give me warm fuzzies about how families will fare in this process.

The Secretary’s memo also lists major program and funding areas and guidance on how agencies should allocate scarce funding. The National Military Family Association appreciates the decision to exempt military personnel funding (generally regarded as pay and allowances) from sequestration. The guidance also provides the good news that war operations and wounded warrior programs will be “fully protected.” We’re not quite sure about what it means that military health care wasn’t mentioned in the memo. Should we be reassured or worried?

While we’re pleased that family support programs are mentioned in the guidance, the “to the extent feasible” language makes us uneasy. Where does “feasible” fall on a DoD priority list? How do we measure the success of DoD’s efforts if they’re only saying they’ll try?

What makes this statement even more alarming is that we also know other recommended actions outlined in the memo will hurt family programs. A civilian hiring freeze, furloughs of civilian employees, cuts to base operating funding, and curtailment of travel and training will decrease the viability of military family support programs that, in some cases, have already been subject to personnel downsizing and funding cuts.

Our Association shares the Secretary’s concern about the damage that will be done if a Fiscal Year Defense Appropriations bill is not enacted. (This will mean DoD must continue to operate under a Continuing Resolution.) We know families understand some programs may need to be scaled back to protect funding for the readiness and support of their service member. But we also know service members say they can better focus on their missions in dangerous places when they know their families have the support they need. They don’t do their jobs just “to the extent feasible”!

DoD must not be forced to cut military family programs to the bone at a time when they are still needed by families supporting service members at war. We will continue to keep an eye on the effect of this budget guidance on support for families and let DoD know if efforts “to the extent feasible” fall short of the mark.

Tell us what’s happening to family support programs in your community. Are people trying to do more with less? Have you or families you know had trouble accessing programs and support services you need?

Joyce RaezerPosted by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at the National Military Family Association