The Obama administration this week unveiled a detailed plan for supporting military families, committing the federal government to 50 initiatives intended to address the most pressing challenges facing troops and their families at home and in their communities. The effort — introduced Jan. 24 at the White House by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife Jill Biden — focuses on four strategic areas:
- enhancing the well-being and psychological health of the military family;
- ensuring excellence in military children’s education and their development;
- developing career and educational opportunities for military spouses; and
- increasing child care availability and quality for the armed forces.
The “whole-of-government” approach is outlined in a report completed under the direction of the National Security Staff and the Domestic Policy Council. “Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment” identifies a variety of ways federal agencies can more effectively support the families of active-duty and reserve service members including those serving the Coast Guard, veterans, and personnel lost in action. Each of the Cabinet secretaries signed the report.
One initiative could directly benefit growth communities by altering Impact Aid funding. The Education Department will seek authority to allow school districts experiencing high growth due to relocating military missions to apply for funding using student counts from the current year, rather than the previous year, according to the report. Separately, the department will for the first time make supporting military families one of its supplemental priorities when reviewing applications for its discretionary grant programs.
To reduce the challenges faced by military dependents after moving to a new school district, DOD will pursue completing development of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The agreement calls for states to harmonize rules regarding graduation requirements, course placement and the transfer of records, among other potential hindrances. As of last November, 35 states have enacted the compact.
Four agencies — DOD, and the Education, Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments — have committed to increasing the availability of child care options as a way to reduce the estimated shortfall of 37,000 child care spaces. Starting this month, pilot programs in 13 states will set up child care liaison positions.
“This is one area we want to focus on,” Robert Gordon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, told the American Forces Press Service. “It’s a partnership that we want to engage with our communities,” he said.
Programs are needed for families living in areas where on-post child care is unavailable or waiting lists are excessive. Only 37 percent of military families live on installations, with the rest residing in more than 4,000 communities nationwide, the report said.
Multiple initiatives are underway to boost employment opportunities for military spouses. The Pentagon plans to extend a program which has bolstered the ranks of Army spouses in Fortune 500 companies to the spouses of the other services. The Veterans Affairs, Labor and Defense departments will augment the transition assistance program now offered to separating and retiring military members and their spouses. A redesigned employment workshop will include “an aggressive, hands-on tailored workforce readiness program” for service members and their spouses preparing for a permanent change of station.
Read about other federal initiatives, including ones intended to strengthen behavioral healthcare systems for returning service members and their families, in “Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment” on DOD’s website.