MOAA's Eryn Wagnon, Director of Government Relations for Military Family Policy and Spouse Programs, and Capt. Erin Stone, USN (Ret.), Program Director of MOAA Career Transition Services, contributed to this article.
The Defense-State Liaison Office (DSLO) was established in 2004 as part of the Military OneSource network to help minimize barriers for military families moving between state lines. DSLO educates and assists state leaders who enact laws impacting the military family quality-of-life. In 2018 alone, DSLO helped to enact 78 state laws and policies improving transitions and general well-being of military families. This includes allowing private sector employers to offer hiring preferences to veterans and allowing service members to receive academic credit for military training, education, and experience.
These changes in local and state law are needed to accommodate the unique circumstances of military family life that create barriers to voting, going to school, and gaining employment.
DSLO will focus on two new key issues for 2019:
Early School Enrollment for Military Children
According to DoD, approximately 185,000 military school aged children move every year. Most state laws require a family to be physically present and show proof of residency to enroll their child in school. This can cause major delays in enrollment for classes and other school programs, disadvantaging military children. DSLO will focus efforts this year to educate state lawmakers and advise them on solutions to facilitate smoother transitions, such as allowing military families to enroll their students remotely using their PCS orders as a means of providing proof of residency.
Continuation of In-State Tuition
While colleges and universities may provide in-state tuition to students whose family is stationed there, the student may lose their eligibility if their family PCS's before they start classes. DSLO plans to educate and advise state leaders by providing best practices from states like Texas and Virginia, which allow for continuation of in-state tuition.
For a full list of DSLO's key issues and interactive states map, visit their page on the Military OneSource site.
MOAA Councils and Chapters Initiatives
In some cases, even more than federal laws, state laws can have significant impact on quality of life for those military members residing in the state. Local laws dictating how a state taxes military retired pay, or deals with transferability of licensure for professional military spouses, for example, have real financial consequences for military and veteran families in that state.
While National MOAA's advocacy efforts are focused at the federal level in order to benefit service members nationwide, MOAA councils and chapters can and do positively influence treatment of military families at the state and local level. MOAA National supports these efforts through coordination and periodic advocacy training for the volunteer leaders in our Council and Chapters system.
MOAA Councils and Chapters with strong, successful local advocacy programs generally have effective relationships with their regional DSLO representative as well as other organizations with shared interests For example, the MOAA Uniformed Services Nurse Advocates Virtual Chapter regularly communicates and coordinates advocacy efforts with several of the regional DSLO liaisons. Likewise, MOAA's Arkansas Council of Chapters has been a key player in coordinated efforts over the past several years to advance the interests of military families in Arkansas. As a member of the Arkansas Veterans Coalition, the Council was instrumental in achieving full state tax exemption for military retirees and survivors in 2018.
How You Can Help
While National MOAA's advocacy efforts are focused at the federal level in order to benefit service members nationwide, MOAA Councils and Chapters can and do positively influence treatment of military families at the state and local level. Contact your local MOAA Chapter to convey your concerns about state laws that adversely impact the military community and see how you can further their efforts to advocate for change. MOAA also has two virtual chapters, the Uniformed Services Nurse Advocates Virtual Chapter and the Surviving Spouse Virtual Chapter. MOAA's strength, nationally and locally, is in our numbers. Add your voice and make a difference!