Senior Army leaders have made quality-of-life (QoL) initiatives a priority, with plans in place to address problem areas amid a recruiting crisis and a recent survey shining a harsh light on their progress so far.
MOAA has long advocated for improving the pay and benefits for our servicemembers, families, retirees and survivors. Addressing mold in housing and the barracks, rising costs due to inflation, lack of child care, access to healthcare, and food insecurity all require our sustained advocacy efforts as Congress works on the NDAA and intends to prioritize modernization of systems over people.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth especially wants to address the extraordinary problems with mold in housing and deteriorating barracks, and a lack of child care available for military families. She outlined her priorities during a recent forum at the annual Association of the U.S. Army gathering in Washington, D.C.
Also at the AUSA event, Dr. Heather Krull, director of personnel, training and health programs and senior economist at RAND Corp., highlighted results from a recent soldier and family QoL survey. In the survey, 95% of military spouses reported significant QoL problems, with 20% finding their needs unmet and unable to find help.
She also made the clear connection between this set of challenges and another facing the Army and other services: “Improving QoL directly improves recruiting,” Krull said.
The Army has fallen short by 15,000 recruits while the other services met their recruiting goals by dipping into their prospective pools with “quick ship” incentives that will set them back for FY 2023.
“We need to demystify what the Army lifestyle is like,” said Yvette K. Bourcicot, the Army’s acting assistant secretary of the army for manpower and reserve affairs (M&RA).
Senior leaders acknowledge 83% of their recruiting base is coming from military families, and that retirees, our “Soldiers for Life,” are needed to inspire service across the nation and broaden the recruiting pool – a pool where only 9% are interested in service.
Recruiters themselves also face a stressful economic environment.
Housing allowance rates “often do not meet their housing needs,” said Maj. Gen. Johnny K. Davis, head of Army Recruiting Command, “and they do not have access to commissaries.”
Task Force Taking Action
The Army’s Quality of Life Task Force – led by Lt. Gen. Kevin Vereen, who serves as the principal military advisor to the assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment and the Chief of Staff of the Army – is charged with addressing these challenges.
The task force has six big priorities:
- Invest significantly in housing and barracks.
- Provide robust virtual health capabilities and transition health care delivery to the Defense Health Agency.
- Increase access to child care.
- Promote spouse employment.
- Provide predictable and responsive services during PCS moves.
- Ensure soldiers and families at select installations with unique needs such as Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Irwin, Calif., and Fort Polk, La., receive critical QoL support.
At the annual AUSA senior leader town hall, questions quickly turned to access to health care.
When asked about the planned 2,900 cuts in Army medical personnel, Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, the Army’s surgeon general, assured the skeptical audience that the planned cuts would not affect beneficiaries. Gen. James McConville, the Army’s chief of staff, echoed those sentiments, saying the service is “committed to the sacred obligation to provide medical care to servicemembers, retirees, and family members.
When asked about adjusting the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and the shortage of affordable housing, Secretary Wormuth committed to working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to address problems. Sergeant Major of the Army Michael stated that the challenge is not only how BAH is calculated, but when, and noted that calculating rates twice a year, and before PCS season, could help families.
“We have to get the policy and money in the right spot,” Grinston said.
He also highlighted that military families who are struggling need to ensure that they sign up for the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) that will take effect Jan. 1. This allowance will provide financial support to many military families who have relied upon food banks and pantries to make ends meet.
The commitments come on the heels of the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s memorandum to strengthen the economic security for servicemembers across DoD.
You can follow more on QoL initiatives and the recruiting crisis for the all-volunteer force at MOAA’s advocacy news page.
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