Support Our Military Families

They may not wear the uniform, but military families serve alongside service members during a deployment and when they return home. Families are often the first to recognize and care for struggling service members or veterans. Furthermore, they themselves are often fighting to heal their minds and spirits after indirectly experiencing over a decade of war.

The military lifestyle can also present significant challenges for military spouses and children. A recent survey by Blue Star Families found that nearly 80 percent of respondents felt being a military spouse had a negative impact on the ability to pursue a career. Often required to move because of their service, military spouses can confront challenges in finding a new job or transferring licenses and certifications to continue their careers in their new homes. Yet, military spouses able to maintain a career were more likely to recommend military service to others.

Mental health services for families of service members and veterans continue to fall behind the need. According to a 2010 study by The New England Journal of Medicine, almost 37 percent of military wives were diagnosed with a mental health injury. Since 2001, approximately 2.8 million service members have deployed to support the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. About half of these are parents.

For some military kids, their childhood has been defined by these deployments. There is a growing academic literature that highlights the impact of this, particularly emphasizing an increased risk for psychological health problems.

Less is known about the challenges faced by caregivers who often are faced with the challenge of running a household, holding a job and caring for an injured loved one. There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States. Of these, 1.1 million (20 percent) are caring for post-9/11 veterans.83 Overall, supports and services for this population can be few and far between and for those who are not family members, the challenge can be even greater.

Yet shockingly, programs for military families are at risk in today’s tough budget climate, threatening their already tenuous support. While Congress previously reached a deal to limit the impact of the arbitrary, across-the board cuts known as sequestration, programs for military families continue to be at risk. The Department of Defense (DoD) cannot balance the budget by cutting the programs that sustain and support military families.

10.1: Increase Mental Health Services for Military Families
10.2: Improve Employment and Education Opportunities for Military Spouses
10.3: Improve Services, Benefits and Care for Military Families
10.4: Strengthen Support for Military Caregivers
10.5: Strengthen Support for Military Children
10.6: End Domestic Violence in the Military

10.1: Increase Mental Health Services for Military Families

Mental health resources for military and veteran families are insufficient to meet their needs. The lives of military families are characterized by multiple stressors—frequent moves, lack of family network, supporting the demands of military culture and deployments, sometimes repeat deployments of loved ones. The availability of family centered support is critical to ensuring that the military family is supported during throughout these demands.

While supports for the family have improved over the last decade or more, there remains a lack of government programs to support the families of veterans who may be struggling with the impact of their loved one’s service. Veterans’ mental health injuries may surface years after separating from the military, leaving family members with little support for their own needs as they find themselves supporting their veteran’s needs. Expanded mental health services for families are required to best care for veterans and their families.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Expand the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health services to veterans’ families, including children, parents, siblings and significant others, when the veteran is receiving treatment for mental health or behavioral health problems.

II. Conduct a joint DoD/VA study of secondary PTSD and its impact on military spouses and children. 

III. Track and report the number of military family member suicides.

IV. Continue to allow DoD and VA to partner with and fund community-based nonprofits like Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and other VSOs to assist military families and survivors..

V. Fund private nonprofit support programs, such as TAPS, National Military Families Association (NMFA), Blue Star Families and Sesame Street’s Look, Listen, Connect that provide innovative programming and support for military families.

VI. Improve training for mental health service providers to effectively diagnose and treat mental health and behavioral problems among military children in the early stages of these disorders.

VII. Provide incentives for mental health providers to specialize in supporting children in military families.

VIII. Support research and programs to further understand the health challenges confronting military families.

10.2: Improve Services, Benefits and Care for Military Families

Sequestration revealed that programs supporting military families are on the chopping block. Yet, support programs for military families often form the fabric of military communities and provide unique opportunities to deliver resources to the military families who support our service members every day. Military families are a vital part of the military community; it’s critical that DoD preserves and improves the system of support for military families.

Military families continue to face challenges in finding and paying for quality child care. Over 60 percent of the Blue Star Families survey respondents reporting difficulty finding the child care they need. Providing adequate child care for service members and military families, particularly those in the National Guard and Reserve, must be a DoD priority.

Additionally, policies regarding parental leave for adoptive parents and fathers require reconsideration. Maternity leave and parental leave are governed separately within DoD, so while IAVA applauds the recent announcement to extend leave for postpartum mothers, this policy does not extend to adoptive parents and fathers. Further, there are many thousands of dual military couples spouses who are both in the military and not necessarily deployed together. Currently, those with children may opt to alternate deployments so that one parent can always be with the children, which can be difficult for families and make it hard to have time to reconnect as a whole family.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Create an office in the White House to focus on veterans and their families to continue the work begun by Joining Forces with additional resources and real power.

II. Provide 18 weeks of maternity leave for women in all military branches, and 21 days for fathers or secondary caregivers to use in the first year in the child’s life.

III. Protect services and programs for military families from budget cuts.

IV. Encourage military spouses to attend Transition Assistance
Program courses along with their spouse and ensure slots are available to support demand. Develop a special track for military families.

V. Extend the hours of DoD active duty child care facilities to include weekends and after business hours.

VI. Expand parental leave to recognize adoptive parents and fathers.

VII. Evaluate the feasibility of setting periods of stabilization for dual-military couples whereby both military parents are considered ineligible for mobilization for a certain period of time.

VIII. Improve access to affordable and high- quality child care services, especially for military families and National Guard members who live off base and have fewer available options.

IX. Increase subsidies for child care and improve quality and access to child care programs.

X. Ensure implementation of the VA advisory committee’s recommendation on establishing case-management system for benefits coordination and registry survivors.

XI. Continue providing the commissary benefit for military families and retirees at the current funding levels.

10.3: Improve Employment and Education Opportunities for Military Spouses

Military spouses face significant barriers in starting and growing a career. According to the 2016 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Report, 80 percent of spouse-respondents reported that being a military spouse has a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career.85 Under the Obama Administration, the Joining Forces initiative raised public awareness and rallied public and private sector support for military spouse employment, but structural challenges still prevent many military spouses from pursuing their career of choice.

Military spouses struggle to continue building their career because of the frequent moves often required by military service. This can include challenges maintaining licenses or certifications because of varying state requirements. States must continue to ease credentialing and licensing requirements for military families, and promote awareness of these changes.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Provide tax credits to offset expenses by military spouses who must obtain professional or trade licenses or certifications when the Active or Reserve service member is relocated to a state in which the spouse is no longer qualified to work.

II. Grant tax credits to military spouses to pursue educational opportunities. 

III. Fully fund the DoD My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program that provides military spouses with critical career training and education. 

IV. Expand quality online learning opportunities and create greater flexibility for virtual and telework for military spouses, so they can keep their jobs when they move.

V. Allow for greater reciprocity for professional licenses between states or make licenses and certification more portable and uniform across state lines to improve military spouse employment.

VI. Fund private nonprofit support programs like NMFA, TAPS and Blue Star Families that provide innovative programming and support for military families.

VII. Create partnerships between DoD and DOL for job training programs to help military spouses build skills and expand career opportunities.

VIII. Educate military spouses on special hiring authorities granted to military spouses through the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA).

10.4: Strengthen Support for Military Caregivers

There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States. 1.1 million are caregivers of post-9/11 veterans. One in four respondents to IAVA’s members survey said they had a caregiver helping them with some aspect of their daily needs. Caregivers face unique challenges, and a recent RAND report showed us that the post-9/11 generation of caregivers might have even more challenges than those caring for pre-9/11 veterans. They are:

• younger (more than 40 percent are between ages 18 and 30)
• caring for a younger individual with a mental health or substance use condition
• a veteran of military service
• employed
• not connected to a support network

Nearly a quarter of caregivers are not related. This population generally is at risk for poorer levels of health and often are so busy caring for others, they don’t take the time to care for themselves. The study found that the post-9/11 generation of caregiver particularly experiences lower relationship quality with their care recipient and further faces challenges with a regular work schedule. These findings, combined with the fact that most caregiver programs being oriented to support the care recipient, leads to a host of challenges for this population.

It is imperative that we not only better understand the challenges of our military caregiver population, both pre-and post-9/11, but how best to support them.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Extend the comprehensive caregiver support program
to make eligible family caregivers of all severely ill and
injured veterans, regardless of when they served.

II. Fund research to better define this population, its challenges, and develop solutions to ensure the necessary supports are in place.

III. Review existing caregiver programs to determine where changes must be made to better support the caregiver, as well as expand eligibility criteria to include all caregivers, whether related or not.

IV. Identify gaps in existing programs and fill those gaps with programs that are meant to reduce the time spent performing caregiving duties, provide health care to caregivers, and offset lost income.

V. Create programs that acknowledge caregivers’ special needs and status, particularly in health care and workplace settings to help caregivers be more effective in their caregiving roles while balancing other aspects of their lives.

VI. Support organizations like the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, National Military Family Association, Rosalynn Carter Center for Caregiving and others that are providing resources and building a support network for military caregivers.

10.5: Strengthen Support for Military Children

Military children often face significant challenges in fully participating in school. Just as military spouses often struggle with frequent moves and have to transfer, military children are required to transfer their credits and academic records between schools that often have different standards and systems.

Many civilian schools simply do not understand the unique needs of the military children, and the challenges these kids face doesn’t end with the last school bell. The opportunities afforded to military children should not be limited because of their parent’s commitment to serve.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Educate teachers and school administrators on the unique challenges that military children face and provide examples of effective support programs so they better understand these children’s specific needs and how best to address them.

II. Enhance oversight programs currently in place to aid military children in civilian schools. 

III. Match Department of Education Impact Aid to the federal obligation required to support civilian school districts in educating military children.

IV. Reauthorize the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) grant program.

V. Mandate all school administrators establish support programs for military children and share best practices.

VI. Fund private nonprofit support programs, such as TAPS, NMFA, Blue Star Families and Sesame Street’s Look, Listen, Connect that provide innovative programming and support for military families