The National Military Family Association (NMFA) stormed Capitol Hill at the end of last week to visit all 535 members of Congress with a plea to end Sequestration.
Clad in bright blue t-shirts the group visited with staffers and members to discuss the real effects of sequestration on military families. Each office received a book titled The Yellow Ribbon is Unraveling—Military Families Share the Pain of Sequestration. The book features personal stories and photographs submitted by military families stationed around the world.
Examples include a photo of a men's restroom at Buckley Air Force Base with a hand written note on the door indicating there is no hot water and no money to fix it because of the sequester. Another shows a notice that the library at Langley Air Force Base is closing permanently, and signs at health care clinics announcing shorter hours and lack of civilian healthcare professionals because of furloughs are repeated several times. A military family member from Fort sill, Oklahoma wrote, "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."
Another family member from Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts wrote that when she had her baby in April of this year she was unable to secure a pediatrician 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.
"We're here to put a face on sequestration for the lawmakers," said Joyce Raezer, Director of the National Military Family Association. While their government relations team spends a lot of time lobbying on the hill, Raezer said this kind of door-knocking activism is unusual for the organization, but the severity of the cuts called for under sequestration warranted face-to-face action.
The National Military Family Association was founded in 1969, to advocate for military families on the issues of child care, accessible health care, spouse employment options, military schools, retirement benefits and support for widows and widowers. Inconceivable as it seems today, at one time widows of servicemembers did not receive death benefits.
When asked about that landmark accomplishment, Raezer said the visit to the Hill is comparable in importance to military families. "This effort is important," she said. "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?'"
Raezer is careful to make note that military families aren't looking for a anything extra and are aware that budget cuts need to be made, but they are concerned about the way in which sequestration "cuts the effective along with the ineffective," Raezer said. According to NMFA, the recent furloughs of civilian Department of Defense workers saved the government only one billion dollars, but in the Fiscal Year 2014, the Department of Defense will have to find $52 billion in savings if sequestration continues.
Raezer points out that Army aviation training has already lost 37,000 flight hours and there will be 500 fewer pilots by the end of FY 2013; that TRICARE already faces a three billion dollar shortfall due to the sequester and that 40 percent of the workforce in military hospitals and clinics are civilians employed by the Department of Defense who could be furloughed again if sequestration continues.
Instead, they would like to see a more thoughtful conversation about the budget and ensure that the voices of military families are heard by those who have the ability to take action.
Raezer and her group are committed to returning to the Hill again if they don't see any changes, and they will continue to bring examples from real military families to lawmakers.