USA — Family Advocates Take Cause to Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — Dozens of mil­i­tary fam­i­ly mem­bers took to the nation’s cap­i­tal today to edu­cate law­mak­ers about their most press­ing issues.

Those issues were revealed in the Blue Star Fam­i­lies’ 2010 Mil­i­tary Fam­i­ly Lifestyle Sur­vey, which the mil­i­tary fam­i­ly advo­ca­cy group unveiled in the Capi­tol Vis­i­tors Cen­ter to mark the start of the Joint Con­gres­sion­al and Sen­ate Mil­i­tary Fam­i­lies Cau­cus Event. 

“This is a great way for us to get our con­cerns out there, and it gets us to one cen­tral loca­tion,” said Karen Fran­cis, Blue Star Fam­i­lies mem­ber and an Army spouse and moth­er. “It’s eas­i­er than putting calls into your Con­gress mem­ber, who may or may not serve on a com­mit­tee that can help you.” 

Sen. Bar­bara Box­er of Cal­i­for­nia and Sen. Richard Burr of North Car­oli­na cre­at­ed the Sen­ate cau­cus in August as a com­ple­ment to the House mil­i­tary fam­i­lies cau­cus that Rep. Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers of Wash­ing­ton and Rep. San­ford Bish­op of Geor­gia start­ed in Novem­ber. The law­mak­ers, all of whom attend­ed the sur­vey unveil­ing, said the cau­cus­es are impor­tant to edu­cate law­mak­ers about the con­cerns of mil­i­tary families. 

“What a loud voice you are!” said Bish­op, whose dis­trict includes Fort Ben­ning. “The strength of our mil­i­tary is drawn from the strength of their families.” 

Spous­es and par­ents, as well as some chil­dren and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers, made up the 3,634 peo­ple who took the online sur­vey in May. Their top con­cern was for pay and ben­e­fits – cho­sen by 21 per­cent of respon­dents this year, com­pared to 18 per­cent last year. The next-great­est con­cern was the toll a parent’s deploy­ment takes on chil­dren, with 15 per­cent choos­ing the cat­e­go­ry, com­pared to 12 per­cent last year. 

Sur­vey respon­dents chose oper­a­tional tem­po as their third area of con­cern, with 14 per­cent choos­ing the cat­e­go­ry com­pared to 16 per­cent last year. 

The biggest dif­fer­ences between respon­dents’ con­cerns this year and last was in children’s edu­ca­tion. Twelve per­cent of respon­dents this year called it a major con­cern, com­pared to 3 per­cent last year. 

The fifth major area of con­cern was spousal employ­ment, with 9 per­cent choos­ing the cat­e­go­ry, com­pared to 6 per­cent last year. 

The sur­vey fur­ther showed that more than half of fam­i­lies have increased stress dur­ing deploy­ments, with one-third say­ing they have “much more” stress. 

“Our ser­vice­mem­bers are stretched and stressed,” Sheila Casey, a Blue Start Moth­er and wife of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. “Yet, we’re amaz­ing­ly resilient. We’re not vic­tims, and we help each other.” 

Dou­glas B. Wil­son, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for pub­lic affairs, told the fam­i­lies about a new depart­ment pro­gram called, ‘Me and a Friend,’ which he cre­at­ed after speak­ing to chil­dren of a deployed ser­vice­mem­ber. The pro­gram issues free tick­ets to sport­ing and cul­tur­al events for mil­i­tary chil­dren and their friends. 

“It’s a mat­ter of look­ing into our com­mu­ni­ty and under­stand­ing that maybe the next-door neigh­bor is over­seas, but maybe the neighbor’s child would like to go to an event,” he said. Burr, who rep­re­sents one of the largest mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ties that includes Fort Bragg, quot­ed Mar­tin Luther King Jr., who said, “If you’re not as con­cerned with your neighbor’s child as you are with your own, you’ll wake up one day and not rec­og­nize the com­mu­ni­ty you live in.” 

The sur­vey is the largest to date to gauge the con­cerns of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, Blue Star Fam­i­lies rep­re­sen­ta­tives said. How­ev­er, the Defense Depart­ment also has com­mis­sioned a sur­vey, the Mil­i­tary Fam­i­ly Life Project, to exam­ine in real time the broad impact of deploy­ments. It will be the first time the depart­ment has under­tak­en such an exten­sive study, a DOD mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty and fam­i­ly pol­i­cy ana­lyst said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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