USA — Programs Aim to Support Military Spouses, Families

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2011 — A new whole-of-gov­ern­ment approach will bring the fed­er­al government’s vast reach to help mil­lions of ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, a senior Defense Depart­ment offi­cial said yes­ter­day.

“This is a very excit­ing time for those of us who have been work­ing hard to sup­port mil­i­tary fam­i­lies,” said Bar­bara Thomp­son, direc­tor of the Pentagon’s office of fam­i­ly pol­i­cy and chil­dren and youth, said dur­ing a “DODLive” blog­gers round­table.

Thomp­son said the back­ing of Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, First Lady Michelle Oba­ma, and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, behind the effort to gar­ner the sup­port of every fed­er­al agency “is real­ly quite amaz­ing.”

For the past year, numer­ous fed­er­al agen­cies and the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil have been work­ing on a report, titled: “Strength­en­ing Our Mil­i­tary Fam­i­lies: Meet­ing America’s Com­mit­ment.” That 23-page report was released Jan. 24 in response to a pres­i­den­tial direc­tive solic­it­ing agen­cies for a more coor­di­nat­ed, com­pre­hen­sive approach to improv­ing fed­er­al sup­port for mil­i­tary fam­i­lies.

Now, Thomp­son said, the next step is get­ting the word out about these new pro­grams to the peo­ple they are sup­posed to sup­port, not­ing that sev­er­al teams and com­mit­tees are in place to ensure an effec­tive strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions plan. One of the teams, she not­ed, has been set up by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a staunch advo­cate of social media.

“We are work­ing with a vari­ety of enti­ties to make sure that we have a very sol­id com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan to get this infor­ma­tion down to the mil­i­tary fam­i­lies,” Thomp­son said. Some of the efforts under way include increas­ing the avail­abil­i­ty of child care and expand­ing spouse-employ­ment pro­grams to all mil­i­tary ser­vices. To sup­port those sta­tioned over­seas, the spouse employ­ment pro­gram has part­nered with over­seas com­pa­nies in South Korea, Japan and Ger­many, Thomp­son said.

“We’re look­ing at pro­vid­ing more user-friend­ly infor­ma­tion on how to acquire a fed­er­al job with [the Office of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment],” she said, “and we’ll be track­ing how many spous­es are employed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to see if all of the fed­er­al agen­cies who have com­mit­ted to employ­ing of mil­i­tary spous­es see an increase in that avail­abil­i­ty.” In addi­tion, the Inte­ri­or Depart­ment will open up nation­al parks to wound­ed war­riors to aid in reha­bil­i­ta­tion and recov­ery and will offer more con­ser­va­tion jobs to mil­i­tary youth. The main focus of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan will be com­mu­ni­cat­ing the avail­abil­i­ty of these new pro­grams and ini­tia­tives to the mil­i­tary fam­i­lies they are intend­ed to sup­port, Thomp­son said.

“We real­ized how impor­tant the strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan is going to be,” she said, “because while we have this won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to get behind mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, the mil­i­tary fam­i­lies need to know what is avail­able now to them. So that is going to be the work of the next few months.”

This, Thomp­son said, will save mil­i­tary fam­i­lies from hav­ing to go to every fed­er­al agency’s web­site to fig­ure out what they’re doing to sup­port mil­i­tary fam­i­lies. The con­cept of hav­ing one web­site has been dis­cussed, she said, but offi­cials real­ize that peo­ple access infor­ma­tion dif­fer­ent­ly and have their favorites.

While a ded­i­cat­ed web­site to these new pro­grams is still up in the air, Thomp­son said, it’s evi­dent that social media and blogs will play a big part in mak­ing sure the right peo­ple see the infor­ma­tion.

“Social net­work­ing is the way to go, and we know that,” she said. “And I think that it’s going to be real­ly impor­tant for this to be endur­ing — that our fam­i­lies have to take advan­tage of the pro­grams that are going to be avail­able to them.”

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

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