Note from MOAA: Rep. Jackie Speier is a recipient of MOAA's Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award. Read more about MOAA’s 2021 award winners.
By Kristin Davis
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) knows that the men and women who wear a military uniform aren’t the only ones making sacrifices.
“When a person serves, so does his or her family,” Speier said. “We’re not going to attract talented people if we don’t create an environment that is conducive to families.”
As chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, which oversees policy and programs that affect health care, education, schools, employment, and more, Speier travels to bases across the country to hear firsthand from servicemembers and their families. Then she takes those issues back to Washington, D.C.
One issue that kept coming up regardless of service or size of a military installation: the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), which was created to provide resources and services for military families with special needs. Recipients described gaps in care, denials for services with little explanation, and yearslong battles to get essential opportunities for children with disabilities.
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Thanks to Speier’s diligence, the subcommittee held a hearing on the EFMP in February 2020. “Five people testified,” she said. “The place was packed. We had to have an overflow room for family members. I knew it was a huge problem.”
Speier helped include important language in the FY 2021 NDAA that improves the EFMP program and access to health care and support for special needs families, including securing $6 million in the House Defense Appropriations Bill to pay for the improvements.
As subcommittee chair, Speier also played a vital role in the House’s bipartisan NDAA, which requires DoD and the services to prescribe regulations for a policy that would make it safe for a sexual assault victim involved in collateral misconduct to report the assault. Collateral misconduct is one of the biggest barriers to reporting because the victim fears punishment.
Speier has long been a leading voice for change in the way the military handles sexual assault, sharing more than 30 victims’ stories on the House floor. “Taking these cases out of the chain of command, retaining them in the military, and having independent prosecutors and investigations by those who are specifically trained in these cases will make us all safer,” she said.
Speier also is working to advance diversity and inclusion within the services. She has called for the appointment a new inspector general to investigate white supremacy and racial and ethnic disparities, to increase the representation of minorities in the military, and to remove all identifiable information before promotion boards.
“Our military does not reflect the general population,” she said. “We have more work to do.”