The Summit – My day on the Hill
My full report –
The first Congressional military family caucus took place Friday April 23, 2010, a day full of great conversations, connections, camaraderie and waiting in line! The various tables were divided by issue and unbeknownst to many of the participants, there was a Senior Wife ( Mrs. Mullen, the wife of Admiral Mullen; Mrs. Casey and other Senior Officer wives) at each table. Since our name tags only had our first name on it, it was a level playing field. Dr. Shelley M. MacDermid Wadsworth talked to us about the various studies going on, of military families in all their permutations, pre, post, during deployment, difficulties in employment and medical care, education – oh yes, we are being studied like crazy. Results – well we can all agree to disagree! Dr. Victoria Youcha – the Director of Brainline- gave us the latest information on Brainline (http://www.brainline.org/), a web site from WETA (the DC PBS station) which is devoted to TBI and other brain injuries – a topic of concern to many military spouses. She discussed the reach and set up of the site – which spurred some discussion at the mental health table of the reach and influence of PBS and how we could utilize the lessons learned there.
The discussion groups were what we were really there for. And the sound level went way up! At our table, talking about mental health issues for families, the stigma associated with it, the availability of it, and how to make sure that every family that needs it gets the right information and is linked to the group that can offer assistance – the discussion was passionate and respectful. Ideas were flying! And interspersed with the ideas, was the “oh try this place” or “have you contacted this group”, the interconnection and willingness to help of all of us. That solidified the message for me – we need to have a “central clearing house” of some sort. As a few of us remarked, MilitaryOneSource just isn’t working! Too cludgy, the search engine is outmoded, and unless you know the specific question or search term, you can spend HOURS looking for something. At the mental health table, we decided that if we could ask anyone for help, we’d talk to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the inventors of Facebook, Google and various survey engines, as well as Dr. Youcha’s group at Brainline – asking them to design a search engine and database that would really connect us with the groups located all over the country, who want to help but don’t know how to get to milspouses.
We were tasked to list three suggestions that we would recommend to Congress for improvements in our areas of discussion. The second task was to come up with hard questions and those to whom we would pose the questions. The list below gives the results of these tasks.
LUNCH! Due to the vagaries of the House Ethics Office, we couldn’t have lunch in our conference room, so after trekking to the Capitol Visitor’s Centre and having to go through additional security, which took quite a long time, we assembled to eat and to listen to our lunchtime speaker, Alison Buckholtz – the author of Standing By. She talked to us about the affect of deployment on her children and on herself, and the type of support she has had during her families deployments. That segued into what kind of support we each have been given by our various Family Readiness Groups etc… and another can o’ worms was opened, some of us had great FRGs and Key Volunteers, others received no assistance at all – and those who hadn’t been helped were more motivated to go back to their bases and improve things!
We meandered our way back through the tunnels and corridors, to another speaker talking about voting rights – he asked us how to give the information out to spouses – one suggestion he hadn’t thought of, set up a table at the commissary on payday – well, duh! As he said, all the brass he had with him, didn’t think of that one, it needed a spouse to give them a reality check.
Each group picked a person to present the findings, some amazing ideas! (listed below) Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers then spoke with us, and then, with much exchanging of cards and email addresses, we dispersed. I was fortunate to get on the train with one of the spouses I had been talking to about mental health issues, who works with Wounded Warriors and if I hadn’t had to get off before her, I think we’d still be swapping ideas.
And THAT, that was the point, in my opinion, of this whole caucus. Educating each other, talking to one another, an exchange of ideas and facts, sites to help and those to stay away from, and ideas to improve our lives as military families.
Summit – Questions & recommendations
Military child education – the hard questions – consistency in education that is currently lacking – what is being done to ensure military kids receive adequate education and how are you measuring the effectiveness of the effort?
The three suggestions; 1. create targeted charter/DoDEA schools in low performing areas; 2. create tuition vouchers for military kids w/ special needs or low performing areas to attend parent preferred private or public school; 3. tie Impact Aid to acceptance and implementation of Interstate Compact.
Military healthcare – the hard questions – what is the benefit of utilizing multiple administrators, ie TriWest, Humana etc for the Tricare system – why is there no universal access between them? What is the screening process and criteria for physicians to be brought into the military health care system or to become a Tricare participating provider?
The three suggestions – 1. one administrator for TriCare; 2. full electronic medical records; 3. provide more money and fully fund TriCare and military healthcare needs. This will ensure prompt payment to providers and get more physicians.
Military childcare – has DoD considered reconstructing the childcare program to reflect the subsidies similar to the BAH scale, based on zip codes. Why hasn’t DoD created standardized childcare across all services and installations?
The three suggestions – 1. ask DoD to provide congress with report card on number of centers, types of care (drop-in, sickcare, emergency 24 hours) priority lists, qualifications of teachers, accreditation/curriculum of centers, cost of care and how is it determined, wait list/facility availability ration; 2. appropriate funds for improving and standardizing facilities, training, and paying qualified providers; 3. appropriate funds for subsidizing childcare costs in town for families on waitlists(NACCERRA is limited).
Effects of Deployments on military families: the hard questions – by 2012 how will government equalize the pay disparity between military personnel, government employees & contractors? To Adm. Mullen; what results will indicate an end to the overseas contingency operations? At what point does freedom of speech end when protesting at a fallen servicemember’s ceremony.
The three suggestions – 1. standardize, mandatory Family Readiness Program that incorporates a paid educated facility; 2. restrict military support organization to include : BBB specific to military families, mandatory financial counseling, mandatory pre and post deployment education seminars; 3. Military Family Leave Act provisions
Military Family Mental health:- the hard questions – how do we educate everyone about behavioural health (new name for mental health) to prevent the stigma associated with seeking help? How do we reinvent the military family education and resource tool (Military OneSource)
The three suggestions: 1. begin an awareness campaign modeled on the AIDS campaign to prevent stigma when seeking behavioural health; 2. improve the military family education and resource tool – 3 click rule, availability and feedback; 3. get programs out of Family Services Umbrella – establish a new umbrella but make it Purple.
Military Families with children with special needs: the hard questions – What are you doing to address unique challenges of special needs families – coordinate with assignment process to ensure access to services without negative impact to service member; provide coverage of evidence based behavioural health treatments to include intensive research based interventions for all Tricare eligible beneficiaries.
The three suggestions: 1. Have Congress mandate each service to ensure minimum standards for policies, programs & procedures equal to the highest standard of programs currently in place; 2. provide coverage for evidence based behavioural health treatments; 3. Medicaid portability – create federal exception for military families.
Military spouse education: the hard questions: Ask SecDef to commission a study on what impact does education have on quality of life for family, retention, quality and quantity for dependent education; what is cost of recruiting, retaining, or retention for a service member who has separated vs cost of educating the spouse.
The three suggestions: 1. fully fund and staff MyCAA program for all military spouses, track employment status and effect on workforce development and employment; 2. authorize military spouses access to online military education courses and training; 3. fast track security clearances for military spouses and offer preferences to military spouses.
Military spouse employment: the hard questions: how much money is being spent on spouse employment programs as compared to number of active duty members separating due to dissatisfied spouses; what oversight is OPM providing for spouse preferences and what corrections are being made for deficiencies?
The three suggestions: 1. GAO report – efficacy of military spouse employment program, effectiveness of family service centers; 2. analysis of available programs – weed out the weak, replace with strong; 3. create national database of background check for spouses to speed up the process.