A couple of developments took shape last week that should be a boon to the families of military members. It’s well-known that these families live somewhat nomadic lives, with the average stay of three years at a base before packing up and moving. About 800,000 service members move each year. And once they arrive, spouses need to apply for new driver’s licenses, register to vote, get the kids enrolled in new schools and perform myriad other chores.
The multiple deployments of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan have put additional strain on loved ones left behind.
To address these and other issues, Spokane’s U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Ga., took the lead in forming the Congressional Military Family Caucus. Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the keynote speaker at the inaugural meeting on Wednesday. So the group has allies in high places.
Mullen said his wife was the key to his endorsement of the group, according to an article in Army Times.
“I don’t know much about families’ issues because I am not the one staying home,” he said. “Military members think they know, but they don’t know, by and large.”
Bishop’s wife grew up in a military family. McMorris Rodgers’ husband is a retired naval aviator. It’s these personal connections and shared experiences that ought to keep the caucus on target.
For the time being, lawmakers will gather information and ideas that could form the basis of legislation or bring about changes under the current system. One idea would be a one-stop shop to convey to families all of the services and benefits available to them. Other topics include employment help for spouses in the states and overseas, health care access and the effects of multiple deployments on children.
Thanks to legislation that passed on Monday, there are a few items that can be crossed off the list. The law allows spouses of military members to keep their original residency, which means they do not need to reregister to vote or obtain new driver’s licenses every time they move.
In addition, couples won’t have to file separate tax returns, which could lower taxes for some families.
This nation has long respected the service of the men and women of the military, but we’ve been slow to appreciate the sacrifices made by their families. The recognition is overdue, but now there’s strong, bipartisan advocacy that can ensure concrete results.