Are DoD’s Latest Efforts to ‘Take Care of Servicemembers and Families’ Enough?

Are DoD’s Latest Efforts to ‘Take Care of Servicemembers and Families’ Enough?
Lt. Sam Wales, assigned to the "Tophatters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14, greets his family during a homecoming celebration Aug. 9 at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Emiline L. M. Senn/Navy)

The Pentagon announced a series of actions Sept. 22 designed to make daily life and frequent moves more affordable for those in uniform and their families, with many of the actions in line with established MOAA priorities for preserving earned benefits and improving quality of life.

 

DoD leadership “will continue to listen, learn, and lead on issues that we know are critical to stability for our outstanding military families,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in a memo announcing the moves. In a Sept. 22 briefing, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, USAF, told reporters, “Our military has some of the most advanced equipment, tactics, and warfighting capabilities in the world, but nothing is accomplished without the men and women who serve in our armed forces and the families that support them.”

 

The memo addresses four key areas:

 

1. Securing Affordable Basic Needs

Financial security is a critical individual readiness issue. The secretary has directed DoD to review the prospective 2023 Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) tables to ensure the calculations reflect the significant fluctuations in the post-pandemic housing market.

 

He also highlighted the automatic BAH increases for active duty servicemembers in 28 Military Housing Areas (MHA) that have experienced an average of more than 20% spike in rental costs this year above current BAH rates. MOAA has endorsed legislation to increase BAH to cover 100% of housing costs and to update the BAH calculation methodology to ensure it keeps pace with rapid shifts in the housing market.

 

[TAKE ACTION: Urge Your House Member to Support the BAH Calculation Improvement Act]

 

The memo proposes a goal of fully funding the commissaries to achieve a 25% savings on grocery bills for all patrons. Additionally, the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA), which will be implemented in January 2023, has been highlighted as a way to support junior enlisted families facing food insecurity; however, at this time, we don’t have insight on which military housing areas will include BAH in the eligibility calculation for the BNA.

 

MOAA, along with our partners at National Military Family Association and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, continues to urge DoD to exclude BAH for all in the BNA eligibility calculation to ensure broad support to all those in need. 

 

2. Making Moves Easier

Military families move on average every two to three years, and these moves often come with unanticipated costs that strain budgets and cause financial distress. Starting in October, the secretary has permanently increased Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE) from 10 days to 14 days for CONUS moves and allowed up to 60 days of TLE if the move is to a specified MHA with a housing shortage.

 

Servicemembers E-1 to E-6 will see an increase in Dislocation Allowance (DLA) to help offset personal expenses associated with PCS moves, and payments will be made automatically one month prior to the move date.

 

Continued improvements to Military OneSource should also be expected. This information portal is a great resource for military families, especially when planning for PCS moves.

 

3. Further Strengthening Support to Military Families

DoD has come a long way in making service more parent-friendly, from expanded parental leave policies for the birth, adoption, or long-term fostering of a child to reimbursement for the shipment of breast milk when a nursing servicemember is on temporary duty.

 

With child care shortages plaguing the nation, DoD has an opportunity to set the example for an effective child care solution. Secretary Austin is committed to making significant investments in Child Development Program (CDP) facilities and standardizing a minimum 50% employee discount for the first child of CDP direct-care workers to attract a more talented staff and to increase capacity.

 

The memo also touts the merits of programs such as Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood and Child Care in Your Home; however, there is much work to be done on this front where programs sound good on paper but are ineffective in practice.  

 

4. Expanding Spousal Employment

The memo concludes with actions the department is taking to address the 22% unemployment rate among military spouses. The secretary has directed the Defense-State Liaison Office to accelerate the development of seven additional occupational licensure interstate compacts (eight interstate compacts already have been completed). MOAA hopes to see an increase in the use of noncompetitive, direct-hiring authorities within DoD as well as an expansion of remote-work and telework options to allow spouses to keep a career on the move.

 

In January 2023, a new career accelerator pilot, similar to Hiring Our Heroes’ Military Spouse Fellowship, will launch, matching military spouses with paid private-sector fellowships in a variety of career paths. MOAA will continue to engage with DoD’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program to ensure this pilot provides an effective path to gainful employment.

 

[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Incentivize Hiring Military Spouses]

 

MOAA applauds DoD for addressing these issues but remains focused on ensuring the programs and policies are truly effective and support the intended community in the best possible ways.

 

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About the Author

Jen Goodale
Jen Goodale

Goodale is MOAA's Director of Government Relations for Military Family Policy and Spouse Programs.