By J.M. Noll
When I was 27, I left my career for the man I loved. It was both an easy and difficult decision. I loved teaching. I loved my school. I loved my colleagues. I loved my students.
But, I loved my sailor more.
When I resigned at the end of the school year, I did it in a heady haze of romance and happiness. My fiance was returning from a year-long stint in Afghanistan and we were getting married a month later. I was so excited about what was in front of me that I never really concretely thought about what I was leaving behind.
If you’re looking at the world in finances and benefits, you could say that by getting married, I downgraded my life. As a military spouse, my earning potential was much less than I made as a teacher. . . pitifully so. To teach in my new home state, I was going to have to shell out hundreds of dollars–if not thousands–for a license even though I had received great evaluations, had a master’s degree and five years of experience, and was rated Highly Proficient in the state I had left. (We opted against that because there was no guarantee I’d receive my license before we had to move again.)
I no longer was working towards a pension and because we were just scraping by, I spent a few years not putting anything in a retirement fund. Then there are the holes in my resume, courtesy of the military, that threw up red flags to potential employers. And to be honest, the health benefits I had left behind were better than the TRICARE benefits I’d received as a military spouse.
I married my husband–which is, hands-down, the best decision I’ve ever made– but I lost out financially. Big time.
My experience in becoming a military spouse is not new, nor is it anomalous. A 2016 study commissioned by Blue Star Families noted that military spouse under- and unemployment costs our nation’s economy between $710 million and $1 billion a year. And let’s not forget that military spouses are more likely to be more educated than their civilian counterparts. While we don’t know how many step away from great jobs and benefits, we can guess that it’s a a lot.
So this sexist idea that women marry men for solely for their TRICARE benefits? (Because no one ever accuses male spouses of doing this.) Puhleeze.
This ugly stereotype was dredged up again– probably unwittingly–by TRICARE when they recently posted this picture and caption on Facebook:
And then they edited it twice to change the original copy. While they should be commended for changing their copy, the comments ranged from “What?” to “If you’re not laughing, it’s because it’s true!”
I’ll be honest: I chuckled too, because, seriously, TRICARE?
But then, after reading more and more comments under the photo, I was just saddened.
To defend this stereotype–or to snidely tell people just to laugh it off–continues to create fissures and division in a community that has helped to bear the brunt of 16 years of continual war. This stereotype, first of all, is a ridiculous assumption to make about an entire group of very diverse women. (Do some women fit the stereotype? Maybe. But vast majority do not.) Second. . . it’s disrespectful to some of the very people we venerate as heroes. Do we really want to perpetuate the idea that our male service members are too dumb to realize when they’re being used for their benefits?
The military wives I know are smart, intelligent women who often have to make the best of a situation that is completely out of their hands. They’re women who have degrees–sometimes multiple–and often they cannot use them by virtue of their spouse’s job and location. They’re women who are vastly underemployed either because they need to be for opstempo or because they have no other options. They’re women who left their lives and decided to follow love instead. And they’re women who lift others up instead of pointing, laughing, and singling others out.