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Support Our Military Families

They may not wear the uniform, but military families serve alongside IAVA 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. 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.

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. Less is known about the need to support non-spouse family members who have even fewer support services than spouses. Even less is known about the long-term impacts of post-9/11 service on our children. Yet shockingly, programs for military families are at risk in today’s tough budget climate, threatening their already tenuous support. While Congress recently 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: Strengthen Support for Military Children
10.3: End Domestic Violence in the Military
10.4: Improve Employment and Education Opportunities for Military Spouses
10.5: Improve Services, Benefits and Care for Military Families

10.1: Increase Mental Health Services for Military Families

Mental health resources for military and veteran families are insufficient to meet their needs. Research clearly indicates that military service impacts family members. A 2010 study found that almost 37 percent of military wives were diagnosed with a mental health injury. More research is required to understand the full impact of military service on the families of veterans and service members.

Few government programs exist 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. Expanded mental health services for families are required to best care for veterans and their families.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Expand 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 the 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 and promote an awareness campaign for PTSD and other mental health disorders among service members and their families in order to reduce the stigma of mental health treatment.

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.

IX. Fund private nonprofit support programs, such as Tragedy Assistance for Survivors (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.

10.2: 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. According to the 2013 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 36 percent of respondents reported that military service has negatively impacted their child’s ability to participate in extracurricular activities. 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.

IV. Mandate all school administrators establish support programs for military children.

V. Fund private nonprofit support programs, such as Tragedy Assistance for Survivors (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.

10.3: End Domestic Violence in the Military

Domestic violence continues to greatly impact the military community. The Department of Defense (DoD) has taken steps to address domestic violence, but it’s difficult to measure its prevalence or progress in ending it. Studies have estimated that rates of domestic violence could range from 13 to 58 percent among active duty service members and veterans. Without a uniform database, the DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cannot identify areas where additional programs are needed and existing programs can be improved. DoD must provide a stronger picture of the scope of domestic violence and the impact of current programs trying to address it.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Increase accountability for domestic violence offenses within DoD and the civilian criminal justice system and ensure offenders with mental health issues receive needed treatment.

II. Improve coordination between military and civilian systems to prevent and respond to domestic violence. 

III. Expand data collection on incidents of domestic violence within DoD. IV. 

IV. Ensure that DoD’s domestic abuse policies are implemented and institutionalized at all levels of the military. Report annually on its progress.

V. Commission a report on the VA’s mechanisms for identifying and supporting victims of domestic violence, particularly homeless women veterans.

VI. Partner with and fund private nonprofit support programs working on and off military facilities.

10.4: Improve Employment and Education Opportunities for Military Spouses

Military spouses face significant barriers in starting and growing a career. According to the 2014 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Report, 84 percent of spouse-respondents reported that being a military spouse has a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative has 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. Blue Star Families reports that 70 percent of spouses whose jobs required licenses or certifications had challenges maintaining that license or certification, and two-thirds were unsure whether licensing portability efforts in their state had actually made a difference. 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 Department of Defense (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 National Military Families Association, TAPS and Blue Star Families that provide innovative programming and support for military families.

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

VIII. Expand grant and scholarship opportunities to service members and spouses.

10.5: 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 the Department of Defense (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. Sixty-seven percent of the Blue Star Families survey respondents reported that during their time associated with the military, the availability of child care affected their pursuit of employment of education. 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 post-partum mothers, this policy does not extend to adoptive parents and fathers. Further, approximately 115,000 members of the military are married to a servicemember and are 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. Protect services and programs for military families from budget cuts.

II. Allow military spouses to attend Transition Assistance Program courses along with their spouse. Develop a special track for military families. 

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

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

V. 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.

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

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

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

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

X. Establish maternity leave policies across all military branches that match the July 2, 2015 announcement by the Navy Secretary that women serving in the Navy and Marine Corps will have 18 weeks of maternity leave to use in the first year of her child’s life.