SpouseBuzz

Dear Pentagon: Where Are Our Benefits?

Last month, my wife and I said “I do” during a freakishly sunny mini-vacation to Seattle. Though we sacrificed a lot to do it, what I dubbed our “shotgun wedding” was beautiful.

Like many other military couples, the needs of the service dictated the timing of our wedding -- my wife will be heading out on a year-long unaccompanied tour to Korea next month. With the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act three weeks after our wedding, we were relieved to know that our new legal status combined with the unconstitutionality of DOMA would allow us to comfortably maintain our home in Arizona while she heads overseas for an unaccompanied tour.

We are so grateful the military benefits given to married servicemembers and their families provide some security during such a scary, unsure time. Except …

Even though we are legally married and I have an 11-year-old son, we are still not able to receive military family benefits such as BAH, health care and all the other things families count on for support. Why? Because the DoD is still figuring out how to implement the benefits we are now legally entitled to.

I grew-up an Army brat am now a proud Army wife, and understand how absolutely crucial it is for servicemembers and their families to have as much security and continuity as possible. With my wife leaving for Korea, we faced the loss of her BAH -- a sizeable chunk of our combined income that we rely on to live. As a married couple, however, we should still qualify for it while she is on her unaccompanied tour.

We had already become accustomed to living on her single soldier income, and are excited to be able to move into a more appropriately sized family home at our next duty station (hello, walk-in closets!). Add in health care benefits and access to on-post support programs, and we are really starting to feel like a military family – at least in theory.

When DOMA fell, we were hopeful for benefits but not expectant, and were prepared to wait a bit to actually get enrolled in DEERS. When DoD told us it would be 6 to 12 weeks, we were a little apprehensive about the wide range, but got in gear to make sure I had everything I needed to take care of the paperwork without her by my side.

We now feel like we are decently prepared, but we’re in limbo. With the person in our family most familiar with military policies and procedures on her way out of the country, we rely heavily on the information we get from the staff on post.

The first time we went in, I was downright insulted by a gentleman trying to explain why benefits were slow to come -- he actually gave us the now-everyone-will-just-try-to-marry-their-best-friend-for-benefits spiel!

The next time we went in (just last week) I was told there was NO timeline (not even the 6-12 weeks originally laid out by the DOD). I was advised not to make an appointment to enroll in DEERS, and was politely told to go home and wait. I left feeling that though she was polite, the woman behind the counter didn’t empathize at all with my situation.

 

My frustration with the lack of communication, and the inconsistent passing of what little information does exist is really wearing me down, and makes me want to just let out a crazy lady scream to the masses.

My wife serves her country like every other servicemember, waking up at times I never knew really even existed, changing international flight plans (twice at this point), and worrying about how on earth her messy wife will ever keep up the house while she’s away. I serve my country like other military spouses and parents, juggling work, schoolwork, soccer practice and laundry, all while wondering how I will fit in time to work off that lonely ice cream binge.

We are like every other military family, but few give us the respect and support they wouldn’t dream of denying our straight counterparts. At times I think of the “No freedom until we’re equal” idea, and wonder how anyone who relies on the military benefits to provide for their families could deny another family the same support, but I realize it’s often hard for people to care about issues that are not their own.

I know you are all aware of how important it is to your servicemembers that their families are properly cared for while they are away.

To those of you who have no personal stake in whether my family gets the same consideration, I ask you to put yourselves in my shoes the next time you need assistance on post. Imagine yourself, frazzled and unsure, preparing for the extended absence of the person who lights up your world.

Imagine yourself being brushed away with little more than a “Sorry, Honey.”

Remember that the armed forces are just that, a whole force of individuals only as strong as their weakest link. Try to feel what we feel when our futures seem up in the air, with no one scrambling to help us. Try to feel the anxiety of our soldiers as they sit helplessly aside, with little direction on how to proceed, and imagine that person as part of YOUR loved one’s team.

Military families are supported and cared for because each piece of the puzzle needs to fit, and we are all pieces of your puzzle.

 

Maria was born an Army brat in Heidelberg, Germany and met her Army wife two years ago while she was stationed at Fort Huachuca.  She has a degree in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona, but currently works from home. They have a feisty 11-year-old son and love to cook for people, play board games like little old ladies and go to bed early. They are both active members of the American Military Partners Association, a resource they find invaluable in helping them stay connected to other LGBT military families.

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