The current Sequestration battle, and its impact on military operations, personnel, services and programs, is the kind of problem that just seems too big for military families to have a voice in. Using the chain of command to resolve issues has been ingrained in us since the day we started this military life. But in this case, it’s time to go directly to the ‘top of the chain’ and let our government leaders know how the sequestration cuts to the military will hurt.
The National Military Family Association is one of several organizations already fighting the good fight on behalf of service members and their families, and wants to help military voices be heard. I was invited to talk with NMFA Executive Director Joyce Wessel Raezer recently, to learn more about the Sequestration’s expected impact on the military and how families can send a message to government leaders to affect a change.
Sitting in the nation’s Capitol, it is easy to get caught up in the political hype of the current budget crisis since it is plastered on the front page of our local newspapers and the focus of area television news. But what about at places like 29 Palms, Ellsworth Air Force Base or Yongsan Garrison in Korea? What are service members and families hearing in the field and what are their concerns?
“What we are finding is that families are frustrated because their service members are doing their jobs, but it seems that our (government) leaders aren't doing their own. There is a lot of uncertainty at the installation level because those commanders don’t have all the answers yet. Most military families won’t know the full impact of Sequestration until the service or program they need isn't available,” said Raezer.
As an answer to that frustration, NMFA posted some pretty forceful letters of their own to President Obama and Congress which you can read at: http://www.militaryfamily.org/feature-articles/letter-to-president..... The letters remind the president of his past promises to support the military and urge congressional leaders to allow the Department of Defense more flexibility in managing the sequestration budget cuts.
Raezer noted that while the effects will look different across each DOD agency, the negatives could touch all aspects of military life. She outlined some of the programs and services that could be affected if the current situation isn't changed:
To keep families informed, NMFA will be continually updating a handy Sequestration question and answer fact sheet on their site http://www.militaryfamily.org/ . Just look under the feature articles tab for “Sequestration – Rumor-Fact”.
Raezer also reminded me of what most of us may have forgotten (except those weary souls in the DOD budget offices). The Defense Department had already agreed to some $50 million in reductions in the 2013 budget. The Sequestration cuts are tightening a belt that’s already on its last h***.
“We are most concerned about the effects on our young military families, those who are just starting out,” shared Raezer. “Service members may be coming in with families and debt and they are leaving the support networks (relatives, friends) they grew up with.” She sees these families as the most vulnerable to service and program cutbacks.
“If child care isn’t available that hurts the young spouse trying to work to help pay off debt. A Federal hiring freeze takes away a source of employment for those spouses. Military families may lose their WIC payments and DOD has no program to replace that needed service. Cuts to Head Start programs may mean less spots for military children, again hurting working spouses or those going to school. Sequestration could affect the decision a young service member and his spouse face on whether to leave or re-enlist,” Raezer explained.
While encouraged by the recent House vote to fund the government through the end of the year and talks in both branches to work to avoid a shutdown, Raezer said the fight to mitigate the Sequestration’s effects continues. “If our leaders don’t hear from military families, they assume that everything is okay,” she noted. She encouraged military families to share their stories on how the cut backs are affecting them and talk about their service experience. Tell government leaders what you need to do your job effectively, and which of those needs is not being met.
You can send your input to NMFA and they will compile the information to present to congressional leaders. Think of NMFA as your foot in the door to the Capitol. “Congressmen always ask us, ‘What do families need?’ and NMFA can help get your concerns to congress,” Raezer said.
So send your stories to NMFA at www.militaryfamily.org. You can also contact the Congressional Military Family Caucus on Facebook at www.facebook.com/militaryfamilycaucus. Organizations such as MOAA (http://www.moaa.org/) and AUSA Family Programs (www.ausa.org/resources/familyprograms) serve as a voice for families too. You can also share your reports with the other service branch associations. Service members and their spouses can write their congressional representatives to share personal stories of the effects of the budget cuts and ask them to get to work on solutions to ease the burden of sequestration.
With all of our voices sounding together, we won’t be shouting in the wilderness. We have resources to help us get our concerns up the chain. Our government leaders are bound to hear and work towards meaningful military family support, not just empty promises.
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