Local servicemembers and their families gathered Oct. 17 at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Wash. for the annual Military Family Caucus Summit, hosted by caucus chairs Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.). Attendees heard from notable military leaders and discussed issues related to spouse unemployment, education, health care, compensation, and benefits.
“Military service is a family commitment,” McMorris Rodgers said as she kicked off the event. She highlighted actions on Capitol Hill resulting from previous Military Family Caucus Summits, such as development of a $500 licensure reimbursement for military spouses forced to be recertified following a PCS.
This year's summit attracted senior officials from the White House, the VA, DoD, and military service organizations (MSOs).
Second Lady Karen Pence addressed the summit through a video. Pence recently began a campaign to encourage and elevate the stories of military spouses, acknowledging “military spouses serve alongside servicemembers.”
Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to the president, emphasized “serving those who served is a priority” through the work being done by the administration, such as executive order 13473, which addresses spouse unemployment, and continued efforts with agencies such as the Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie noted VA efforts to work more closely with DoD to smooth transitions for military families after their years of service. Wilkie highlighted the state of Washington as a trailblazer for the future of the VA, citing a project on electronic health records at Fairchild AFB and development of a new 24-hour VA clinic and teaching hospital.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy A.T. Johnston stressed the importance of networking and federal resources, such as Military OneSource.
“The military family is the backbone to military readiness,” said Army Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, assistant chief of staff for installation management. Bingham called for efforts to reduce spouse unemployment and noted a new children's and youth services employment assignment tool that will allow child care providers to transfer from one installation to another without having to reapply. This could not only maintain the number of child care providers available in federal facilities but also reduce unemployment among military spouse child care providers who PCS.
Other notable speakers included a panel of senior enlisted servicemembers at Fairchild AFB; Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, director, 21st Century Sailor; and Marie Balocki, deputy director, Marine and Family Programs.
In townhall-style panels, subject-matter experts from DoD and MSOs answered questions from the audience on topics ranging from spouse unemployment to military pay and compensation. Top issues raised by servicemembers and panelists included threats to dual-military family housing benefits (BAH), transfer of children's education records, food insecurity, capacity of child care on installations, the Exceptional Family Member Program, and the new Blended Retirement System.
MSO staff members and congressional staff left the summit motivated to seek solutions for a variety of military family concerns in the 116th Congress. Stay up-to-date as MOAA advocates for military families on Capitol Hill by subscribing to The MOAA Newsletter.