Here’s what the Service Secretaries are asking US governors

(Photo: U.S. Air Force, Mauricio Campino)

Service Secretaries are focusing on improving the quality of life for military families in a February letter to the National Governors Association (NGA).

Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson co-signed a letter to the NGA encouraging that body to extend support for military families. The Secretaries noted some of the most common factors affecting quality of life are the quality of schools and availability of employment.

Education concerns

“(T)he factors military families cite most frequently as drawbacks to military service include military dependent’s difficulty assimilating into local school systems following a duty station transfer, the quality of schools available for their children, and the ability of spouses to obtain jobs and sustain careers,” the letter read in part.

To allow for improved ease of transfer, the Secretaries encouraged the NGA leadership to strongly consider the quality of schools located near military installations.

Military families experience difficulties transferring credits between schools, and military children must adjust to different curriculum standards state to state. This creates tension and roadblocks to successfully and seamlessly educating military children. Military children also miss opportunities to join school-based clubs, sports, and other activities due to PCS dates that fall after the sign-up period.

The quality of their child’s education was listed as a top concern by 39 percent of military spouses to the 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey from Blue Star Families. An additional 32 percent of active duty troops considered quality of education to be a top priority as well. While not exclusively tied to quality of education, the impact on a service member’s family was cited as the top reason for exiting the military.

Focusing on improving education for military families, based on this data, could impact overall troop retention and morale.

The Secretaries recognized that many schools do follow the guidelines set forth in the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3). However, they also recognized that many schools and states are still not meeting this threshold.

Spouse employment concerns

Moving with the military can often mean leaving professional careers and employment behind for military spouses. While there are many career fields that offer reliable remote employment opportunities, not all spouses work in those fields.

With each move, military spouses must start the search from employment from scratch. Those who work in professionally licensed fields, like teachers, engineers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and cosmetic artists, must transfer their license(s). This process can be costly and take months when reciprocity is recognized between states. Without reciprocity, military spouses might need to enroll in continuing education courses or take additional licensure tests, at extra cost.

This whole process can leave military spouses with lengthy gaps in employment. Their job search will be delayed due to licensure transfers.

Unemployment and underemployment are top concerns for 43 percent of military spouses, according to the 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Of spouses who are employed, 51 percent make less than $20,000 per year. Achieving financial stability, for 46 percent of respondents, depends on the military spouse obtaining employment. Financial concerns were a top stressor for 46 percent of military spouses and 38 percent of active duty troops.

Working with the states to ease licensure transfer rules and streamline the process could go a long way to help military spouses. With easier transfers, military spouses could decrease the gaps in employment and increase their ability to obtain a well paying job. Working toward these goals could also impact troop retention by improving quality of life for the whole family and decreasing financial stressors.

The Secretaries encouraged each state to consider making allowances for military spouses in professionally licensed fields.

“Eliminating or mitigating these barriers will improve quality of life for our military families, and ease the stress of transferring duty stations with consideration for long-term career implications,” the letter read.

While it it recognized that changing laws and licensure policy does take time, the Secretaries encouraged states to act with urgency.

“Over the long term, however, leaders who want to make a difference for the military and our missions will make the most impact if we focus on what matters,” the Secretaries wrote. “Reciprocity on licensure and the quality of education matter.”

By Meg Flanagan