Shortly after the new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, arrived at the Pentagon, he told his staff that he wanted to reach out to military and veterans organizations. As a result of that request, I recently spent two days at a Pentagon roundtable meeting with Secretary Hagel, senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials, and twenty-one other military and veterans organization leaders. I appreciate Secretary Hagel’s early outreach and the opportunity his roundtable discussion provided for me to ask many of the questions military families have been asking us about sequestration, support for military families, and what lies ahead for our military community.
Secretary Hagel shared his opinion that the tough budget realities facing DoD would not change. He asked how DoD can effectively work with military and veterans organization to expand the services and support our service members and military families need. This was an important discussion for a new Secretary of Defense to have with the organizations in the room and, I hope, with many others in the future. Partnerships and collaborations are important, but we also need to talk about the unique obligation our government, through the Department of Defense, has to support and sustain military families during times of war and peace.
We remain a nation at war. Our all-volunteer force, making up less than one percent of the nation, has made extraordinary sacrifices for our country. Military families are navigating new uncertainties: unpredictable deployment schedules; downsizing; worry about how the stress of separation and reunion will affect family relationships; and concern that the foundation of support families have come to rely on will disappear.
The reality of sequestration adds to the stress of military families. Will the military be able to retain mental health counselors and will civilian mental health providers continue to care for our families to the extent needed? How will DoD address the consequences of civilian employees furloughs on the delivery of support services? Will child care services be available for school-aged children who suddenly have fewer school days? Will families be reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs made in anticipation of a deployment only to learn the deployment has been cancelled? Will DoD have robust resources for the families affected by suicide or sexual assault? Does DoD have the funding and capacity to meet the mandated requirements of the new transition assistance program to effectively prepare transitioning families?
Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We will fight to ensure programs and benefits critical to the wellbeing of military families are authorized, funded, and implemented to maintain their readiness and allow them to meet the challenges of military life. We will fight to protect families from destructive budget cuts. We will fight to relieve the emotional stress of military families as service members respond to crises worldwide.
What budget cuts are you most concerned about?