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Military families gain advocate

Thu., Nov. 5, 2009

McMorris Rodgers helps lead congressional group

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress launched a bipartisan caucus Wednesday to advocate for families of service members.

Led by U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., the Congressional Military Families Caucus members say they want a stronger focus on issues such as spousal employment, health care access and the effects of multiple deployments on service members’ children.

The kickoff followed a presidential proclamation Friday declaring November as Military Family Month. Already, more than 70 members of Congress have joined the organization.

“There’s a growing recognition by the military, by the administration and by members of Congress that we need to focus on issues important to military families in order for us to really meet the needs of our military and our country,” McMorris Rodgers said.

The event drew 17 representatives as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who spoke about the need to address problems like post-traumatic stress disorder and making sure veterans know how to access benefits.

“The visibility you give these issues is absolutely critical,” Mullen said.

In an interview, McMorris Rodgers stressed that military service is more than an individual commitment – it’s a family effort. When she occasionally complains about being away from the family for too long, her husband, a retired Navy officer, reminds her that military spouses have to endure much longer absences, she said.

The caucus will begin holding monthly briefings and eventually come up with an agenda. There are lots of military programs already, McMorris Rodgers said, and there’s plenty of work that can be done without passing new laws.

“I don’t think every answer has to be more money, or a new program, or even legislation,” she said. “… We can make resources available to them that currently exist, make it easier to access the resources and programs that do exist.”

For instance, she said, the caucus could urge the military to set up “one-stop shops” on military bases so families can learn about benefits or seek help on issues like health care coverage.

The caucus could also look at which branches are serving families the best and nudge the others toward their practices, McMorris Rodgers said.

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