Guest Post By: Natasha Harth, 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week I attended my second Military Family Readiness Council (MFRC) meeting at the Pentagon. Many of the council members were the same, but I was happy to see an increased presence in observers, one of the things I mentioned in my last article regarding the MFRC. The two hours was packed with discussion regarding expanding access to EFMP healthcare, portability of careers for spouses and veterans, tuition assistance, appropriated funds, etc., but what I want to talk about is something that remained the same from the last meeting. That is Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Cody’s unabashed criticism for what we could be doing better for our families.
During the June MFRC meeting, Cody was the first to speak up in response to reporting on the state of military family financial readiness. The report presented showed that an overwhelming number of families felt financially secure, something they self-reported versus using measurable metrics. Cody was the first to question the validity of allowing service members to just put a check in the box that they were okay, without asking quantifiable information for verification. That earned his first “check-in-the-box” with me as being authentic and someone we can count on to advocate for our families.
Tuition Assistance Provides Value for Service Branches
True to precedence, CMS Cody again went to bat for military families in regards to tuition assistance, with support of fellow council member Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. Dailey was able to boast the Army has saved over $50M in unemployment payouts, something he contributes to tuition assistance. He is a strong advocate for allowing service members to use TA for technical and trade programs, in addition to the currently allowed academic programs.
Ms. Diana Banks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, was present to speak for tuition assistance. Right now, the department is hesitant to “…invest half a billion dollars with no clean consensus of what we want to get out of it.” The department needs to determine if offering TA is a recruiting and retention tool, a way to improve current force skills, or a way to help after service. Ms. Banks says the department needs to figure out its metrics and goals before expanding this assistance to spouses, as Cody suggested. Dailey chimed in that it has already been proven that TA saves the department money in the form of reduced unemployment payouts after service.
There are current deficits in the civilian sector for trade skills – Dailey used truck drivers as just one example. He says that expanding TA will fill the deficits and incentivize the Army. He called for a cost analysis to expand benefits to family members and wants a deadline for this to happen. Dailey and Cody were both outspoken about needing measurable progress and deadlines for this matter and all others being discussed for the 2017 agenda.
This is just the beginning of the discussion, but everything has to start somewhere. The fact that it is being talked about and advocated for by our senior leadership is progress in itself. Policy takes a long time to change, but with people like CMS Cody and SMA Dailey in our corner it might become a reality.
“Recruit the member, retain the family.” – CMS Cody