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DoD Family Policy Chief Stepping Down

Rosemary Williams (Photo: DoD)
Rosemary Williams (Photo: DoD)

The head of the Defense Department's military community and family policy office is resigning her post and taking over as assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs on April 4, she announced today.

Rosemary Williams, who spent 25 years as a broadcast journalist, said she sees the public affairs job at the VA as a way to help service members and their families move from active duty into the VA's care. Families get lost in that transition period, she said, as they learn about services and help from a delay-riddled VA, but are no longer leaning on the DoD for assistance.

"As you know, VA is always under tremendous public scrutiny and their ability to improve both internal and external communications is essential," Williams told Military.com. "The expectation from [VA officials] is that I will use my relevant experience and expertise to give VA a lift in their transformational efforts through an integrated outreach, engagement and awareness strategy. I am like a madwoman saying 'integrated' wherever I go these days. We have to get better at communicating available resources and their relevancy to the folks who need them."

Both the deputy assistant secretary of defense position and the VA job are political appointments, and those who fill them traditionally resign at the end of a president's administration. New appointees likely will take over both the DoD position and Williams' new VA job early next year when a new U.S. president is sworn into office.

Williams took the reins of the military family policy office in July 2013 -- a tumultuous time in the DoD as sequestration was hitting the department and massive budget cuts were in the works. Despite threats of sweeping cutbacks, Williams has been the public face of protecting military family programs from downsizing. Although some small cuts have been made, such as the elimination of a program that provided families with free memberships to a babysitter website, other programs -- such a free counseling through Military OneSource -- remain safe and may soon see expansion.

Known for her frank, off-the-cuff update emails, Williams is largely beloved by families and advocacy groups. While DoD officials are sometimes seen by the community as a roadblock, Williams has developed the reputation of a partner, military family advocates said on background.

Williams said she is most proud of her office's efforts to tackle issues of service member family violence through a two-year, department-wide review that recently closed, and landing permission early last year to market military family programs online through paid advertising, an effort that took a major cultural shift within OSD.

But she wishes she were able to complete an ongoing attempt to expand free counseling services and resources provided through Military OneSource from 180 days after military separation to a full year.

"Our community really needs that cushion of support," she said. "There will always be this gap, large or small, that the community will fill. I strongly believe that the VA can lead the effort to knit together the net to help catch our veterans, their families and survivors, as they navigate transition into the civilian world."

No information has been released on who will replace Williams in the DoD family policy office.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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