Members of the National Military Family Association visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to ask all 535 members of Congress to end automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
Clad in bright blue T-shirts, the members met with lawmakers and staffers to discuss the harmful effects of the reductions on military families. Each office received a book, titled "The Yellow Ribbon is Unraveling -- Military Families Share the Pain of Sequestration." The publication features personal stories and photographs submitted by military families stationed around the world.
For example, a note on the door of a men's restroom at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., states there is no hot water and no money to fix it. A notice at the library at Langley Air Force Base notes the facility is closing permanently. Signs at health care clinics announce fewer operating hours and a shortage of civilian healthcare workers because of mandatory unpaid leaves of absence known as furloughs.
"I should not have to weigh paying out of pocket to use an urgent care clinic, waiting for 10-12 hours in the ER or not receiving care at all as options when talking about my health care," a family member from Fort Sill, Okla., wrote.
Another from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., wrote, "When I had my baby in April of this year we were unable to secure a pediatrician for her due to referral complications caused by sequestration. Her newborn visit was an ‘emergency' visit because there was no other way for her to be seen."
Joyce Raezer, the association's director, said such "door-knocking activism" is unusual for the organization, whose government relations team already spends a lot of time lobbying congressional staff on the Hill. But the severity of the cuts called for more personal interaction, she said.
"We're here to put a face on sequestration for the lawmakers," she said.
Founded in 1969, the association advocates for military families on such issues as child care, health care, spouse employment, military schools, retirement benefits and support for widows and widowers.
"This effort is important," Raezer said of the current campaign against the spending reductions. "In the next 10 years, sequestration will be so devastating to our military and military families. We don't want to look back and say, ‘What else could we have done?'"
Military families are aware that budget cuts need to be made and aren't looking for anything extra, Raezer said. But they're concerned about the across-the-board nature of the reductions, which "cuts the effective along with the ineffective," she said.
The Defense Department's decision this year to furlough some 650,000 civilian employees for six days saved an estimated $1 billion. Yet in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, the Pentagon faces another $52 billion in cuts under sequestration.
The reductions are expected to trigger additional funding shortfalls for the military's healthcare system, known as TRICARE, and more furloughs for four out of every 10 workers in the military's hospitals and clinics, Raezer said.
The association wants a more thoughtful debate about how to solve the Pentagon's budget challenges and to ensure the voices of military families are heard by decision-makers, Raezer said. The group is committed to returning to the Hill, if necessary, to deliver that message, she said.