Our service members and their families deserve our untiring gratitude and support for their service to our country. After sixteen years of war, most Americans recognize the unprecedented challenge of caring for our military service members and veterans. However, the personal sacrifices of spouses and families are often overlooked. As a Member of Congress who represents a constituency with over 60,000 veterans and a strong presence of active duty Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen along with their families, I remain committed to providing a voice for military and veteran spouses.
As a founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Military Family Caucus and member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, service members and veterans often share with me personal stories regarding the challenges their spouses face. Frequent moves and multiple deployments have forced military spouses to forgo higher education, to place their career aspirations on hold, and sometimes face unemployment or underemployment. Although we have made significant progress strengthening military-connected spouse education and employment initiatives, we must also invest in programs that support veterans and retirees’ spouses as they transition to civilian life.
Veteran spouses find it just as difficult to find employment as active duty spouses. While we understand that service members must navigate many challenges as they transition into civilian society, we must also recognize the personal sacrifices that military spouses endure in support of our nation. Unlike our veterans, veteran spouses are not privy to transitional employment, education, and training programs, yet they are just as deserving of these types of opportunities. According to the 2017 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, employed spouses positively impact the veteran transition experience. Often after military retirement, it is the spouse’s income that sustains the family until the veteran can find appropriate employment. Thus, we must reimagine the VA systems to extend benefits to the family of the veteran.
Although our VA system provides adequate education and training programs for widows and dependent children of fallen service members and disabled veterans; it falls short in supporting the veteran families who fall outside of those categories. For example, the VA Employment Center provides tools to help veterans find employment and advance their civilian careers. These are benefits that could easily be extended to all veteran spouses regardless of a veteran’s death or disability status.
Another way we can better support our veteran families is to provide veteran spouses education and training opportunities. The VA administers many benefit programs designed to advance the education and skills of service members and veterans to include the Veterans Educational Assistance Program and the National Testing Program. These programs provide critical educational assistance including reimbursement for national admission tests and national tests required for college credit. These same benefits should also be available to veteran family members.
The federal government has an opportunity to provide greater support for veteran spouses who have made significant sacrifices for military families, and now need our help as civilians. For over two centuries, the United States Armed Forces have fought to defend our freedom and preserve our liberties. It is a mission that requires dedication, not only from our service members, but their families as well. Thus, our obligation is not just to our veterans, but to their families who have faced the unique demands of the military lifestyle. When a person joins the military, it is also a family commitment to our country. Therefore, we must do more to support our veteran spouses and their families.