Supporting the military means supporting military spouses

Supporting the military means supporting military spouses
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As society continues to work toward ending the stigma related to mental health, we talk a lot about the social determinants of health, i.e., the various factors that can impact our emotional well-being. This includes things like physical health, employment, community, and connectedness.

For military members and veterans specifically, the latter two elements — community and connectedness — often make the most significant impact on overall health and wellness.

One often overlooked element of community and connectedness in the military community is the role of military spouses. Indeed, it is often the military spouse who holds a family together in face of trying events such as deployment, disability, and frequent moves.

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In order to ensure optimal health and wellness for those serving in the military, we must ensure that military spouses also receive the necessary support they need around physical health, employment, community and connectedness that also leads to optimal health.  

However, just as community and connectedness is often overlooked for the service member, employment is often overlooked for military spouses.

We have made great progress over the last 10 years with regards to veteran hiring programs. Although under-employment for transitioning veterans is still high, overall veteran unemployment is now at 3 percent nationwide — an 18-year low.  

Given the success of these programs, it is now time for lawmakers and stakeholders to turn their attention to military spouse-specific hiring programs. Here’s why.

First, the role of a military spouse is a challenging one. Currently, military spouses face a 24 percent unemployment rate, due to factors such as occupational licensing requirements, interview bias, and resume gaps as a result of frequent moves or overseas duty stations. Despite the fact that of the roughly 500,000 military spouses in the United States, 84 percent have a college education, for those that are employed, nearly 38 percent earn less than their civilian counterparts. 67 percent state that they have quit a job because of a military move, and 41 percent of those stated that the time it took to find a new job exceed four months.

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Second, as noted above, family support and a healthy marriage impact personnel and readiness. It is well-documented that marriage results in a number of health-related benefits, including living longer, better physical health, and lower rates of depression, compared to unmarried individuals. These factors carry additional significance for military families, who are often faced with more high-level stressful circumstances than their civilian counterparts.

Fortunately, there is some progress being made with regard to employment for military spouses. Last May, President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE signed an executive order aimed at improving military spouse hiring in the federal workforce, a rare bipartisan initiative on the part of the administration that continued efforts begun by the Obama administration.   

And, more recently, the private sector has also gotten involved, through programs like the Grow With Google Initiative.

The Grow With Google Initiative sponsors workshops and scholarships that help military spouses maintain flexible careers that are conducive to the frequent moves required by the military.

Similar to its search-engine tool to help veterans find jobs that match their military experience, the Grow With Google Initiative for military spouses allows job-seekers to “build flexible, meaningful careers, despite all of their frequent moves,” states Lilyn Hester, Google’s head of Southeast External Affairs and Government Relations, who also grew up as a military child.

Similarly, with regard to the veteran-specific platform, Matthew Hudson, a Google Cloud program manager and U.S. Air Force veteran, stated that “there isn’t a common language that helps recruiters match a veteran’s experience with the need for their skills and leadership in civilian jobs. As a result, 1 in 3 veterans – of the roughly 250,00 service members who transition out of the military each year – end up taking jobs well below their skill level.”  

Certainly, the same technology can be levied to help military spouses as well.

As is so often the case, whereas technology is a starting point for addressing employment for military spouses, it is not a silver bullet. In addition to technology initiatives, Congress can help by passing legislation such as the Portable Certification of Spouses (PCS) Act.

Introduced by Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonUS officials express optimism negotiations with Iran possible Cotton: 'Healthy skepticism warranted' when dealing with Democrats on immigration Cotton: I hope Trump's statement 'got through' to Iran's leaders MORE (R-Ark.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDemocrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks Key endorsements: A who's who in early states Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill after Mnuchin announces delay MORE (D-N.H.), and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership Nikki Haley blasts Roy Moore's Senate bid: 'He does not represent our Republican Party' McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' MORE (R-Ariz.), the bill, which was recently included in the Chairman’s mark of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, seeks to improve the portability of occupational licenses from state to state and alleviate the burden of re-registering small businesses in a new state every time a service member is reassigned. Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Susan DavisSusan Carol DavisSupporting the military means supporting military spouses Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race Republican's campaign accused of racism for referring to Palestinian opponent as a 'national security threat' MORE (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

In a press release, Cotton stated that “military families already shoulder heavy loads for our country – they shouldn’t also have to worry about state regulations that prevent wives or husbands from working in their own profession.”

Similarly, Shaheen added that “military spouses make immense sacrifices and whenever we can find ways to support them, we should act.  This legislation will cut through red tape that military spouses face as they practice their licensed professions and move their business from state-to-state.  This legislation is an opportunity to demonstrate to the nation that Congress can still work across the aisle to solve urgent problems.”

Military spouses support our country in an important way. They provide stability and support to service members, which in turn increases our national security by ensuring optimal health and wellness for those in uniform. Supporting military spouses through employment-specific programs should be a no-brainer for legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Rory E. Riley-Topping served as a litigation staff attorney for the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), where she represented veterans and their survivors before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. She also served as the staff director and counsel for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs for former Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). You can find her on Twitter: @RileyTopping.