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Lighting Up Glassy Eyeballs on Capitol Hill

I consider glassy eyeballs a personal challenge. Those congressional staffers didn’t know it, but when I see glassy, pleasant, professional eyeballs turned on military families, I gotta change that. Right now.

I was part of a delegation sent up to Capitol Hill following our annual Military.com Spouse Summit. Instead of having our participants listen to panels of experts this year, we brought the experts and participants together to work, discover, plan, share, explode.

It was awesome. So awesome that the participants and experts kept asking us what we planned to do with all the information we had unearthed. Our bosses pushed us to do more with it, to bring it to the Hill.

So there was our delegation in suits and heels clicking through the Congressional and Senate office buildings. We met with staffers and military liasions and legislative aides and military fellows.

At first, we got the glassy eyeballs. Everyone does. Those Congressional staffers see thousands of people every year who want all kinds of government change. Yet here are the three things our Spouse Summit participants said that made glassy eyeballs light up on Capitol Hill.

1. Therapists who don’t know jack about military culture aren’t cutting it.

Like our spouses at the summit, staffers were surprised to hear that there is no military cultural training required for therapists who treat servicemembers or military family members -- even through Tricare.

Current optional training programs teach about the branches of the military, rank structure, and, if you are lucky, you might see some footage of traffic in Iraq or action in Afghanistan.

This lack of experience with the military contributes to therapist who say stupid alienating things to servicemembers-- who then won’t go back to see the therapist.

One military stafer back a little. He told us that the problem used to be that there were not enough therapists of any kind for military. Putting up a roadblock in the form of training was a problem.

We countered saying that one appointment with a therapist did not constitute a cure. If you can’t make the servicemember trust the therapist with such a core part of their identity, how can you get the servicemember to return frequently enough to get better?  Therapy that doesn't work is no therapy.

Our solution? Many military family members with degrees in counseling or social work face the struggle to get recertified every time they move. Provide a national certification process that will apply from state to state. Make cultural training mandatory.

 2. Spouse Employment programs should be for people with spouse employment problems.

Current education and employment programs for military spouses are aimed at the largest group of military spouses -- spouses under 25 married to someone in their first tour. Yet the spouses at the summit pointed out that your real employment problems come in later years when you have moved and moved and moved with the military.

According to multiple studies, spouse employment problems are largely due to geographic region and a lack of network connections. The longer the servicemember is in the military, the more likely it is that spouses report career problems.

 Our solution? Since the most important reason to aid spouses with the job hunt is because of the way it affects retention of the servicemember, attach eligibility for programs as a reenlistment bonus. Bring back the old MyCAA program that allowed spouses to retool with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Limit eligibility to servicemembers in their second or third enlistment with eligibility that lasts until retirement.

3. The war at home ain’t over.

Although military families may look alike to government, our worries are often shaped by branch of service. At our Spouse Summit, we found:
  • Navy families were most concerned about cancelled deployments, as well as the creeping length of deployments.
  • Air Force families were concerned about the isolation caused by individuals deploying one by one instead of in a unit.
  • Coast Guard and National Guard families were even more frustrated than usual by the fact that they don’t have same benefits as other deploying troops.
  • Army and Marine families were concerned about the emotional bill for war that is coming due now thatongoing problems can’t be ignored.
Our solution? Come take part in the Spouse Summit. Staffers have the ability to bring a message to their Congressman or Senator at just the right moment. Most of the staffers we spoke to were interested in getting a chance to work with real military spouses living the life right now (instead of the official party).

All the information our representatives need in order to make good decisions about servicemembers and their families don’t come from the cold dry numbers. Sometimes you need real examples from real people to make a glassy eye blink and start to take notes.

What military spouse concerns would you have brought to Capitol Hill? What next steps should we take to further some of our ideas?  

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