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Mission Family: Spouses require more than good wishes

May. 21, 2014 - 04:31PM   |  
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It’s been 30 years since President Reagan announced the first Military Spouse Appreciation Day — May 23, 1984. Since then, that day has been designated as the Friday before Mother’s Day.

This year’s official Military Spouse Appreciation Day has passed, but no matter. I believe we can show our appreciation for military spouses in at least some small way every day. Whether you’re a civilian or another member of the military community, continue to offer kind and encouraging words to your military spouse friends today and next month. Offer to take the kids to the park for an hour to give your friend some quiet time, or invite them dinner. If you see a need, think about how you can help.

This “appreciation” for military families is perhaps taking hold in the civilian population. In September 2001, military families and service providers may have been the only ones who had an inkling of what lay ahead for them. And while they were asking questions about the effects of wartime deployments on troops, spouses and children as wars flared in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seemed the civilian population took years to start thinking about it.

A lot of credit must go to first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, for bringing many issues to the public’s attention. On the third anniversary of the launch of their Joining Forces campaign to rally the nation around military families, they announced the new Veterans Philanthropy Exchange, a collection of philanthropic groups creating a “stronger, national funding structure for efforts that support our military families.” It will be a way for these groups to share best practices, create new resources and recruit more donors to support military families.

“The best thing about this is the timing,” said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, who noted that a five-year commitment at the end of the wars “is important, because they recognize that needs will continue, and in some cases, intensify. We need that kind of message.”

The Defense Department and the services also have expanded existing programs and launched new efforts to meet the needs of military families during wartime and thereafter — such as embedding counselors in communities and in schools; beefing up spouse employment programs with the key involvement of companies who actually want to hire military spouses; providing more resources and information for permanent change-of-station moves; and making the transition to civilian life easier.

But neither the government nor nonprofits can do it all.

“Budget cuts are affecting nonprofits as well,” Raezer said. “We’re affected by the economy just as DoD is. … We can partner and fill in the gaps, but there are things DoD must do for family readiness. I’m worried about this assumption that if they cut the DoD budget, nonprofits and volunteers will magically step in and do what the military used to do.”

A little appreciation can go a long way in the daily lives of military spouses. But advocates say stable funding for critical programs remains key.

Karen Jowers is married to a military retiree.

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