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Bloggers' Roundtable with Secretary Pete Geren

Some of you (one of you?) may remember my opportunity to speak with the then-acting Secretary of the Army, Mr. Pete Geren when he visited Schofield Barracks back in July of 2007. This morning I had yet another opportunity to speak with him on a variety of subjects including the Army Family Covenant and the Army's work on transforming warrior care for it's servicemembers.

There were 6 other bloggers involved so I was only able to ask one of the questions I had prepared. My question was:

With regard to the Army Family Covenant, can you clarify the Army's position on the use of paid FRG (Family Readiness Group) positions? Will this be a global policy? A regional one? And how is the decision made to hire versus when to rely solely on volunteers?

Mr. Geren clarified that this policy is global and will be implemented all the way down to the Battalion level throughout the entire Army. In the past these paid positions were only instituted down to the Brigade level but the Army is beginning to realize (finally) the strain that multiple deployments places on it's volunteers.

The Army is increasing the amount of money it is spending on family support programs from $700 million to $1.4 billion in FY2009 and a large percentage of that will go toward these paid FRG positions.

Here in Hawaii, we have already seen evidence of the Army Family Covenant in action - at the level of Children and Youth Services (to include free registration, increased respite care hours, free or discounted classes, etc.), increased services at physical fitness centers, etc. Hopefully this trend will continue (us military spouses are a skeptical bunch, especially when it comes to promises made and often broken) and the money will be put to good use.

I did not have time to ask the remainder of my questions but I'll post them here and see what you all have to say.

1. What else can military families expect to see from the Army Family Covenant in the future?

2. With regard to the transformation of warrior care, what steps arebeing taken to tackle the issue of PTSD outside of the WarriorTransition Units? What is being done for the soldier that needsassistance with PTSD issues that are not severe enough to warrantplacement in the WTU? What level of care can they expect to receive?

3. What percentage of medical personnel at military treatmentfacilities (MTFs) are being trained to recognize and treat theservicemember properly? Is the Army planning to go beyond the "chainteach" model that it has implemented and truly get the medicalprofessionals the training necessary to tackle this complex problem?

4. Accessibility of health care for geographically separated, Guard,and Reserve families that have no Tricare providers within a reasonabledistance. How is this being addressed? Is it possible to work towardthe goal of having a Tricare provider in EVERY COUNTY so thatgeographically separated, Guard, and Reserve families can actuallyaccess the care they are entitled to when they are eligible?

5. Employment. The assistance being offered to spouses to help themsecure education in order to increase their opportunities in theworkforce are commendable. However, there is a large segment of themilitary spouse population that is already highly educated but arerunning into significant barriers when it comes to finding a job. thebias against military spouses can even be seen in the mid-levelgovernment positions (how many GS9+ positions are actually held bymilitary spouses??). Does the possibility exist for military spouses toseek assistance in terms of securing professional credentials? A friendof mine wrote:

Businesses that pay for training materials and thecredentialing process for their employees tend to overlook militaryspouses who they know will not be with them long. I cannot blame thesecompanies but it is also a huge monetary outlay that most militaryfamilies cannot afford. Even if a spouse has obtained credentials, mostrequire ongoing education requirements to keep the credential and ifthe spouse is moved to a location without job prospects, they cannotafford to keep up their credentials. I would love to have my PMP(project management) or be a FACHE (Fellow American College ofHealthcare Executives) but cannot afford the process. At the same time,these are just about mandatory in order to obtain jobs in these areas.Quite the catch 22.

It is so true. I would love to pursue additional credentials thatwould make me much more marketable once I get somewhere that I canre-enter the workforce. But the cost (while having no income) is highlyprohibitive. I would love to become a Nationally Board CertifiedTeacher but the cost is HIGHLY prohibitive ($3,000+) and theprocess is not really conducive to someone who is not currentlyteaching. Such is the life of a military spouse.

The Secretary did state that there is an on-going joint venturebetween the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Labor to increaseemployment opportunities for military spouses and that he is alsoworking with General Casey to increase the opportunities as well.

In addition, there is an on-going process that will offer GI Billbenefits to military spouses and children. Currently it is in the"pilot phase". JackArmy did a post about it all a few days ago if you'reinterested in more information. Personally speaking, WE paid into theprogram, WE should be able to determine where it is used. MacGyveralready has his degree and doesn't plan to go any further with it andif he does, he can do so for a fraction of the cost by going throughthe Army. So, rather than let OUR money go to waste, why not give thefamilies the option of using that money to pay for our children'scollege education or our own college education in order to improve ourquality of life?  He did mention  that scholarships can be found at America SupportsYou but I've not yet found them. I'll post the link when I do.

He then went on to discuss a plan that will be launched next summer.The plan is to "chain teach" every member of the military to recognizethe signs of suicidal behavior and how to help the person securetreatment. He also plugged Military OneSource as a portal for geographically disbursed families,partnering Active Duty locations/amenities with those families that arenot near military bases.

And in April, a new Community Covenant will be launched, thankingcommunities for their support of military families with the hope ofidentifying other partners to assist specifically those families thatare geographically disbursed.

In closing, he reminded us of the Wounded Soldier Family Hotline asa way to identify  problems early and address them. He said that they(he?) are briefed each week on the issues that arise and their status.Hopefully that will help to prevent issues from becoming as big as theyhave in the past by giving servicemembers and families another way ofgetting their concerns heard.

All in all, it was an incredible experience that I would love to have the opportunity to do again! Thanks Andi!

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