Blue Star Families is committed to ensuring that the United States maintains a ready, resilient, and adaptable military force.
By tracking bills, meeting with policymakers, providing testimony, and writing letters in support of legislation, we work tirelessly to move the needle on policies affecting military families. Our annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS) enables us to make data-driven recommendations to lawmakers regarding ways to improve military families’ quality of life.
MILITARY PERSONNEL & READINESS
The nature of war is changing, and so is the face of our military. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, over half of active-duty service members are married, and approximately a third of those service members have children. Yet the current military system was designed during the Cold War to attract unattached young men, capable of conforming to an “up and out” promotion system involving frequent relocation. This system puts an unacceptable level of stress on service members and their families, leading to adverse financial, health, and mental health outcomes. Unless our military system is reformed to meet the needs of modern military families, it is unlikely that young Americans will continue to choose a life of service. Blue Star Families champions military cultural changes and policies that support a healthy work-life balance and enable greater career control.
According to the Department of Defense (DoD), active-duty military members relocate, on average, once every two to three years – typically across state lines or overseas. Such relocation can contribute to financial insecurity by making it difficult for military spouses to find and maintain gainful employment. Moreover, the limited availability and high costs of childcare, out-of-pocket relocation and housing expenses, and unexpected financial emergencies, can compound to exacerbate the financial circumstances of modern military families. Blue Star Families supports legislation that would ensure that service members and their families are financially secure.
Service Member Compensation
Description:To recruit and retain talented individuals into the Armed Forces, service member compensation must be competitive with that of the civilian sector.
Support annual increases to service member compensation tied to the Employment Cost Index
Description:Military spouse unemployment and underemployment continue to persist despite legislative and community efforts. Blue Star Families has been tracking this issue since the inception of its annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey in 2009, and we have elevated military spouse employment to the forefront of DoD and legislative conversations.
- Incentivize private sector employers to initiate flexible work programs for military spouses by amending the Internal Revenue Code to make employers of military spouses eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (thereby allowing them to claim a tax credit equal to a portion of the wages paid to said spouses)
- Allow military spouses who must leave their jobs due to PCS to defer their student loan payments for a fixed period
- Encourage the Bureau of Labor Statistics to start tracking the military spouse unemployment rate
- BSF WEBINARS:
- Why is unemployment so high among military spouses?
Description:Department of Defense (DoD) policy is written to ensure that military families have access to quality, affordable housing, which reflects current community living standards. Cuts to the basic allowance for housing (BAH) affect military families who choose to reside off-installation, but can also affect families who reside on-installation. BAH impacts base housing sustainment funding, which ensures that the DoD continues to provide military families with the quality housing its policies require.
- Restore BAH to 100% of local area rent
Relocation & Out-of-Pocket Expenses
Description:According to the Department of Defense (DoD), active-duty military families move an average of once every two to three years, typically across state lines or overseas. Such moves can involve out-of-pocket expenses. When compounded by insufficient service member compensation, spouse un/underemployment, and the high costs of childcare, out-of-pocket relocation expenses can greatly contribute to a military family’s financial stress.
- Increase lead time given to military families prior to relocation
Description:Across the country, service members and their spouses are turning to food pantries for aid in feeding their families. This is neither an isolated problem nor a novel one. Military families are being served by food pantries and distribution programs on or near every single military base in the United States.
- Amend the Farm Bill to prevent the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) from being treated as income when calculating SNAP eligibility
- Establish a basic needs allowance to supplement the base pay of junior enlisted members at or below 130% of the federal poverty line
EDCUCATION, EMPLOYMENT & TRANSITION
After separating from the military, veterans and their families often experience changes in their family dynamic, psychological needs, careers and education, housing and community, and awareness of (as well as access to) various resources (e.g., health care, benefits, programs, organizations). Transition experiences can have short- and long-term impacts on veterans and their families. In previous surveys, veteran respondents’ difficult transition experiences have been associated with poor outcomes related to mental health, employment, and community adjustment. Blue Star Families supports legislation that would ease transition-related challenges for service members and their families.
- Build strong formal support networks for transitioning service members and veterans aimed at empowering them to develop informal networks in their local communities
- Empower service members and veterans to quickly locate employment and/or educational opportunities after transitioning
- Foster smooth and lasting transitions to civilian life by promoting public-private partnerships that incentivize private sector employers to hire veterans, and enable veterans to receive high-quality care as part of their benefits
- Protect students from predatory lenders and fraudulent for-profit schools, and restore GI Bill benefits to those cheated by fraudulent for-profit schools
- Close the 90/10 loophole that for-profit schools use to target veterans
The civil-military divide has implications not only only for recruitment and readiness, but also for military families’ sense of belonging to their local communities. Blue Star Families is committed to fostering civil-military integration and promoting military cultural competency in civilian communities.
Understanding & Appreciation
Description:According to the Pew Research Center, less than 1% of the American public has served on active duty at any given time since 9/11, resulting in a decreased understanding between the military and the broader U.S. society (otherwise known as the “civilian-military divide”). This widening divide is especially prominent among America’s youth as many lack basic knowledge about military service, and what they think they know is often wrong.
- Maximize interactions between installations and local communities
- Evaluate installation commanders on their effectiveness in collaborating with local civilian leaders to promote civil-military engagement
- Improve installation engagement with local high schools to ensure that military service is a celebrated choice for graduates
- Open installation recreational resources to local community members for events that bring non-military onto base/post
- “Wave the flag” via active-duty and retiree participation in local military affinity groups, clubs, and organizations
- Establish joint-governmental-use facilities and “joint zones” where military and local community members can take advantage of social programs and services together, to avoid duplication of services and foster civil-military integration
- Support DoD programming aimed at fostering military family lifestyle cultural competency (MFLCC) in local civilian communities
- Encourage colleges and employers to accept a version of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test (ASVAT) for qualifications
- Encourage civilians to enroll in ROTC courses on civilian campuses that have ROTC programs
- Formalize relationships and synchronize classes between ROTC programs and public policy schools/departments so that future civilian and military policy-makers develop relationships early on
- Support grants to local municipalities to create military family sections on their websites and establish a military community member liaison staff position
Military Cultural Competency & Belonging
Belonging is important to the health and wellness of active-duty military and veteran families. “Belonging” connotes a subjective sense of membership, influence, shared emotional connections, integration, and the fulfillment of needs within a community. While many military families feel connected to institutions and networks within their communities, many still do not feel they belong in them. Feeling deprived of belonging can lead to severe depression and mental distress, while a sense of belonging is associated with the ability to cope with military life stress.
Our surveys have shown that belonging to the local civilian community increases over time, but military families who relocate frequently may not have the time to establish that belonging before another relocation. Furthermore, perceptions of civilians’ military family lifestyle cultural competency (MFLCC) significantly and positively correlate with a sense of belonging to the community among both military and veteran family respondents.
HEALTH & WELLNESS
The health and wellness of military families is central to sustaining the future of American defense capabilities and the All-Volunteer Force. The stress of frequent relocations, deployments, financial difficulties, and caregiving (for the wounded, ill, or disabled) can negatively impact the physical and mental health of military families. Blue Star Families supports policies that would sustain and protect the health and wellness of our service members, veterans, and their families.
Description:Low-cost and quality health care is an increasingly important benefit for military families.
- Provide consistent, accessible, and high-quality health care for all service members, veterans, and their families
- Increase access to civilian providers with military cultural competency
Description:The stressors of the military lifestyle can contribute to adverse mental health outcomes among service members and their families.
- Change the military’s culture around mental health by (a) educating service members about the importance of tending to their psychological wellness, and (b) empowering service members to identify risk factors for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation
- Increase access to mental health services via alternative hours (weeknights and weekends), and alternative delivery methods (e.g., telehealth)
- Colocate mental health offices with other services/programs so that it's less obvious that a client is going to a building for mental health purposes
- Fund research into the mental health of military youth
Description:Tricare does not currently cover chiropractic services, acupuncture, or other alternative therapies for military family members, retirees, or Tricare Reserve Select beneficiaries.
- Expand Tricare coverage for chiropractic services, acupuncture, and other alternative therapies to military family members, retirees, and Tricare Reserve Select beneficiaries.
Special Needs and EFMP
Description:The challenges associated with the military lifestyle may be exacerbated by the unique circumstances of caring for a family member with special needs. Similarly, the challenges associated with caring for a family member with special needs may be exacerbated by the military lifestyle.
- Standardize the EFMP experience across installations and military branches, as recommended by the GAO
- Ensure that EFMP families and families with special needs and/or chronic conditions are given priority regarding scheduling health appointments after relocation and colocated childcare
- Enhance warm hand-offs of EFMP families from one duty station to the next
- Fast-track referrals for specialists for EFMP families by not requiring a PCM referral for chronic conditions
- Ensure that any specialist database is updated with new patient acceptance status before new duty station assignments for EFMP families, so as to avoid delays for support once these families relocate
There are roughly 5.5 million unpaid military or veteran caregivers in the United States who provide assistance to others with daily living and/or medical tasks. While providing unpaid care is often regarded as a great responsibility (and one that caregivers are extremely proud of doing), post-9/11 military and veteran caregivers are also more likely to fare worse in health outcomes as a result of not being connected to a support network. Blue Star Families supports legislation that would provide military caregivers with the support and resources they need to thrive.
- Enact paid family leave policies for situations involving: (a) qualifying exigencies arising out of a family member being on active duty in a foreign country (or being notified of an impending call/order of active service in a foreign country); (b) caring for a family member who is a covered service member; and (c) caring for a family member with a serious health condition
- Create an office within the VA focused on the needs of military caregivers – to ensure that caregiver voices are represented in the policymaking process
- Formally designate caregivers in patient medical records, so that they can be consistently included in medical planning discussions
- Ensure that caregivers can receive respite care
- Strengthen and expand eligibility for the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) to all severely disabled veterans, and improve consistency and accountability in the administration and execution of the PCAFC
- Increase military caregiver employment by incentivizing private sector employers to initiate flexible work programs for military caregivers
According to the Department of Defense (DoD), 37.8% of military children are five years old or younger. The DoD recognizes that childcare is a “workforce issue that directly impacts the efficiency, readiness, retention, and lethality of the Total Force,” which is one of the reasons they are the largest employer-sponsored childcare provider in the United States. This is also a reason why childcare is one focus of the DoD Office of the Inspector General’s Top Management Challenges for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. Yet, finding childcare is still considered stressful and can negatively impact service members. Blue Star Families supports legislation that would make childcare more affordable and accessible to military families.
- Increase the number of providers available to military families and oppose funding cuts to military child care programs
- Exempt military families from having to include BAH as part of their total income when applying for publicly-supported childcare programs
- Expand fee assistance eligibility to military families who wish to enroll their child in a childcare facility that is state licensed (even if it is not accredited)
- Incentivize local childcare providers to obtain national certification via federal reimbursements
The DoD reported 38.8% of its service members have children, of which over half (54%) of those children are school-aged (6-18 years old). Although civilian families also relocate, the average military child moves three times as often as their civilian peers, which can exacerbate education concerns for military families. Multiple moves have been associated with some possible educational consequences such as a gap in learning, credit transfers, and graduation requirements, which might entail repeating classes. On top of this, while military families are often able to provide some degree of input into where they’d like to relocate, they ultimately have little control over when or where they actually move, and many of these moves do not occur at national transition points (e.g., elementary to middle school/junior high). This can add an additional layer of uncertainty for military children and their families. Blue Star Families supports legislation that would ease education-related challenges for military children.
- Make homeschooling a more accessible option for military families by expanding the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children to cover children who enter the public school system after homeschooling
- Provide high-quality online educational resources to military families who choose to homeschool their children
- Fully fund Department of Education Impact Aid and increase funding provided via DoD Impact Aid to ensure that public schools serving military children have adequate resources
The U.S. military should strive for the diversity that reflects the demographics of the nation writ large. To meet recruiting targets, the services draw from a demographically diverse pool of U.S. youth. Policies and programs that support diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in the military can enhance the services’ ability to attract, recruit, and retain top talent. Blue Star Families supports policies that would celebrate the diversity of our Armed Forces and ensure that all service members and military families feel a sense of belonging to their military communities.
- Foster an inclusive military culture that honors, values, and respects diversity
- Amend to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to include non-discrimination protections on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation
- Review and correct the records of service members discharged due to their sexual orientation
- Ensure that LGBTQ+ service members have access to equitable, gender-affirming, and culturally-competent health care
- Establish a special prosecutors office within the DoD that is independent from the chain of command
- Protect veterans and military family members from deportation and review the cases of individuals who have been deported for possible return to the United States
- Protect critical programs like Parole in Place and Deferred Action for undocumented family members of service members
- Restart the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which recruited non-citizens with specialized skills or language abilities, paired with appropriate security and counterintelligence protections
- Make it easier for noncitizens who serve honorably in the military and their families to naturalize and become citizens