President Addresses Military Families; Army Programs Focus on Family Care Improvements
January 29, 2008
President George W. Bush discussed the vital role of military families, including Army Families, during the Jan. 28 State of the Union address to the nation from Washington, D.C. Army leaders appreciated the President's important remarks and echoed many of them, noting Army plans to expand Family assistance efforts under the Army Family Covenant while continuing improvements to many existing services.
"Our military families also sacrifice for America," President Bush said. "They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of providing for children while a loved one is serving far from home. We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to childcare, creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children. Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation and tonight our nation honors them."
"Military families make extraordinary sacrifices as their loved ones advance the cause of freedom around the world," said Army Secretary Pete Geren. "Military Families hang together. They help each other out -- neighbors helping neighbors. In the military, the bond of Family extends beyond bloodlines. Military Families take care of Military Families."
"We're absolutely committed to ratcheting up what we're doing for our Families," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. "We're re-expressing our support for Families and our prioritization of Families and putting our money where our mouth is."
The Army recognizes the sacrifices by Families and is working to deliver a quality of life that military Families so often have forfeited by virtue of frequent relocation or isolation. Proposed initiatives requiring legislative changes for Army Families include:
* Make GI Bill Benefits Transferable. The Montgomery GI Bill generally covers 36 months of education at a value of about $40,000. Today, 97% enroll, but only 70% actually use the benefit; and very few use all of it. This initiative would allow transfer to family members of the unused benefit.
* Enhance Military Spouse Careers. Military families move every few years. This initiative would provide richer opportunities to gain or sustain a promising career. This proposal would significantly expand an existing pilot program allowing military spouses to continue education and local universities or technical schools; create mert-based military spouse internships within the federal government to open the door to a possible federal service career; and grant military spouses direct hire status for placement in suitable jobs anywhere in the federal government.
* Enact "Dole-Shalala" Commission Recommendations. The President urged Congress to act promptly on the proposals put forward by the bipartisan Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors headed by Bob Dole and Donna Shalala.
* Quality Child Care. Two-thirds of military-families stationed in the United States live off base, sometimes in remote areas. They consistently report difficulty in locating child care, especially for infants, at the price and quality available at on-base facilities. Sometimes the on-base facilities need more capacity. This initiative would establish joint ventures with the private sector to make the same high quality care presently provided on base to all military families, at a comparable price. At the same time, the Army would accelerate its healthy plan for the construction of additional or expanded on-base child care facilities where that is appropriate.
Beyond these ongoing and planned initiatives, the U.S. Army is committed to the Army Family Covenant of services and facilities for Army Families nationwide and overseas. This covenant formally recognizes the sacrifices made on the home front while the Army is at war and pledges funding for existing Family programs and services, increase the accessibility and quality of health care, improve Soldier and Family housing, ensure excellence in schools, youth services and child care, and expand education and employment opportunities for Family members.
Last year, the Army moved $100 million into Family Support Programs to jump-start family programs. Examples included hiring additional full-time staff in "Army Community Services" as well as expanding childcare, respite care, and youth services. The Army is reworking future budgets to sustain this increased level of investment in our Families. The Army Family Covenant represents a $1.4 billion commitment this year to improving the quality of life for Army Families.
The Army has listened to the feedback of families and acted on their behalf. For example, on Army installations across the nation construction is booming. To support our growing force and their families, more than 42 Child Development Centers have been built, with 133 more programmed in the coming years. 20,000 family housing units have been built or renovated, with 59,000 more scheduled.
To overcome the limitations of geography for those families not living near an Army post, the Army is establishing the Army Integrated Family Support Network. This communications network promotes efforts integrating and synchronizing Family Support Services. These include basic services, such as information, referrals and training for Family Readiness Groups. It also jump starts funding for 80 community liaisons, the eArmyFamily messaging system, as well as new training for Army Community Service and reserve family-program staff.
In the area of child care and youth services, the Army has eliminated Garrison child care registration fees, eliminated off post child care registration fees in Army off post programs, and eliminated fees for extended duty day child care. For Wounded Warriors, the Army reduced full and part day child care fees in Army operated or sponsored child care programs, and now provides free hourly care in Army operated programs during medical appointments.
Army leaders across the nation have led in implementing these improvements, in order to provide Soldiers and Families a quality of life that is commensurate with their service.