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Military spouses need more help finding meaningful work

Determination + top-notch education + 4.0 GPA = professional success! Unless you are a military spouse.

This formula for success simply does not work for thousands of military spouses. I have experienced it myself and witnessed it in others for over 27 years. Without regret, my husband’s military career has translated into our common life purpose: a sense of duty and immense pride in our country. There were also many sacrifices. Meeting my husband while I was in college resulted in a three-year delay in graduation due to frequent moves. Seven years of full-time study at 4 different universities eventually culminated in a bachelor’s degree. Finally, I got a 4.0 in nursing and moved again two weeks later. I’ve maintained my nursing license over the years with a patchwork of full-time and part-time jobs, non-traditional work environments, and independent contractor contracts. I was able to keep a current license, but never was able to advance to a leadership or managerial position. Despite my high quality education and high career goals, I struggled to realize my potential. I barely hung on to my license. And I’m not unique. Over the decades, I have watched my story unfold over and over again with other military families.

Military spouses sacrifice personal goals in ways the general population would rather ignore. No other demographic group has such high unemployment rates. Estimates range from 22 to 30 percent unemployment among military spouses, according to the US Chamber of Commerce. compared to the general unemployment rate in the United States of about 4%. Causes range from frequent moves, difficulty transferring licensure across different states, and low accessibility to jobs in specialized fields, while some entrepreneur spouses struggle to qualify for small business loans because that lenders consider the fact that they have not established roots in the community as a cause. out of concern. Many highly educated spouses have to accept local underemployment rather than pursue attractive career options.

US military policies often exacerbate the problem. For example, Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs), which govern the employment of spouses in foreign countries, severely restrict career progression. These policies have remained unchanged since World War II, despite the cultural and societal advancements of the modern workforce. Many military installations lack sufficient child care services, resulting in long waiting lists. Military service members do not have access to Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), resulting in higher net childcare costs than their civilian counterparts, a problem exacerbated when military families are forced to find off-base child care providers. The dual income family has become the norm in the United States, but our own policies inherently prevent the military family from achieving financial stability through dual careers. The future impacts of financial stress increase by an order of magnitude year after year because the military spouse is unable to contribute to retirement savings at levels comparable to those of their civilian counterparts. This translates into a negative impact on the finances of the future retired military family.

Can a military man concentrate effectively on the complicated task of national defense when his personal finances are suffering? The financial vulnerability of the military family should concern us all. I argue that the lack of employment in the military spouse community has a disproportionate and negative impact on military readiness.

Yes, meaningful employment translates to financial gain and stability, but there is another big incentive: mental health. Professional success improves mental health, as shown in Military Spouse Magazine. Meredith Lozar, director of Hiring our Heroes, agrees that unemployment contributes to low self-esteem and lack of focus. A family’s good mental health translates directly to increased service member retention. Retaining highly skilled service members is a critical aspect of our national defense and a benefit to all Americans according to Military Medicine Magazine. It is a moral and ethical imperative to help our military families achieve good mental health, and a very effective method is to have meaningful employment.

What solutions are available for this dilemma? Frequent communications with legislators via email, letters or phone calls have a big impact. Ask lawmakers to pass bills such as HB 1605 and S.1532 to create policies that encourage DoD to study the military spouse life cycle with recommendations in mind, incentivize employers with relief taxes if a military spouse is hired and allow military members to pay for child care with pre-tax earnings similar to an FSA. Insist that lawmakers include spousal updates in SOF agreements when they need to be renegotiated and provide portability through financial vesting policies for retirement accounts so spouses don’t lose their future nest egg. Encourage lawmakers to create a special classification for SBA loans specific to military spouses. Refer to organizations such as Secure Families Initiative and Homefront Rising for coaching that maximizes its impact when interacting with legislators. These are all easily achievable actions.

Public-private partnerships focused on military spouse initiatives deserve our encouragement and financial support. Examples of outstanding nonprofit organizations that specifically partner with the military spouse are the USO, Hiring Our Heroes, The Commit Foundation, Hire Heroes USA, National Military Spouse Network, Military Spouse Advocacy Network, and Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Government initiatives such as Joining Forces (White House), Five to Thrive (USAF), and AFWERX (Air Force Technology Acceleration Program) also provide examples of best practices for remote work that spouses of military need today.

Signing up for military service should not cause financial hardship for military families. The military family demonstrates the highest level of commitment, loyalty and dedication to protecting our country. Military spouses especially deserve policies to restore opportunity in the career paths they have chosen in return for their resilience and direct support of our troops. Our whole country will benefit from this investment.

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