Courtesy photos, collage by Christopher Hurd
Courtesy photos, collage by Christopher Hurd (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
This article is part of the "America's Army: 2023 Year in Review" content series. To view the rest of the big Army news from this year, visit the website at Army.mil/YearInReview.

WASHINGTON — People remain the Army’s number one priority and the service implemented various quality of life changes throughout 2023 to help service members and their families.

These efforts included enhancing career opportunities for spouses, child care access, family housing, and mental health support.

Spouse Employment

The Army worked on several plans to increase employment for the 431,000 spouses across all three components. The service expanded its noncompetitive hiring authority with the DOD Military Spouse Employment Partnership, connecting spouses to 610 employers. So far, more than 258,000 spouses have been hired.

The Army continues to work with the Defense State Liaison Office as they work with states on implementing the recently passed Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act.

This legislation is designed to assist spouses in transferring occupation licenses between states more effortlessly.

The Army has streamlined the process for spousal reimbursement for license and certification cost up to $1,000 during a permanent change of station move.

Family member employment has been difficult in Italy, and on 30 August 2023, the U.S. and Italy came to an agreement that allows U.S. dependents with a mission visa stationed there to telework to jobs with U.S. employers, which was not an option for spouses previously.

“Army spouses play an important role in Soldier and family readiness and Soldier retention,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. “Leveraging both Army and DOD programs, and partnerships with other federal and non-governmental organizations, we remain committed to improving spouse employment and career opportunities.”

Streamlined Moving Process 

This September, the Department of Defense began phase one of transitioning to a single contracting company, Houston-based company HomeSafe Alliance, LLC, for the pickup and delivery of household goods in the continental U.S.

Phase two will include overseas moves and is scheduled to begin September 2024. Army leadership said the change is expected to bring greater efficiencies and accountability for service members and their families.

“This is an opportunity to raise the standard for our families, attract quality capacity to the program, and introduce a level of accountability absent today,” said Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander, U.S. Transportation Command. “Once implemented, this contract will positively impact thousands of service members, civilian employees and their families each year.”

Child Care 

The Army tackled child care costs and availability as well. The service built six new child development centers and has at least five more on the way.

The Army also increased staff at the CDCs by raising entry-level salaries and offering staff retention bonuses as well as child care discounts. More than 70% of its total CDC workforce is now staffed.

In August, the Army announced a new child care pilot program that grants Army Reserve Soldiers and their families access to a childcare matching service and in some areas offering free childcare during battle assembly weekends. The program works with local government support and is being piloted in West Liberty, Iowa, and Clay County, Missouri.

“The Army recognizes the impact that child care has on the lives of our Soldiers and their families,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin Vereen, deputy chief of staff for installations (G-9). “Through increased initiatives to identify and secure accessible and affordable child care options, we enable our military parents to fulfill their responsibilities without sacrificing the well-being of their children.”

The DOD announced the creation of the Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account, a financial benefit for eligible service members that allows them to place as much as $5,000 pre-taxed dollars from their paycheck into the account for dependent care services.

Active-component Soldiers, along with Active Guard Reserve Soldiers on Title 10 orders, are eligible. The benefit is scheduled to be available Jan. 1, 2024. Those interested can sign up for the account during the annual Federal Benefits Open Season, which runs now through mid-December.

Parental Leave

To support parents and caregivers, the Army refined its parental leave guidance in January. The new guidance increased paid parental leave from 21 days for non-birth parents to  12 weeks of paid paternal leave for birth parents, non-birth parents and Soldiers adopting a child or accepting a child for long-term foster care.

The expanded policy allows for greater flexibility for Soldiers and their families. It authorizes Soldiers to delay parental leave to attend military education, to take regular leave in between parental leave, and to take leave in increments.

Soldiers can request parental leave through the Integrated Personnel and Pay System–Army and the Department of the Army Form 31.

Economic Stability

Soldiers received positive news with Basic Allowance for Housing rates increasing an average of 12.1% this year. Service members in 291 of 300 military housing areas received an increase.

For low-income military families, a new Basic Needs Allowance became available this year. The supplemental allowance is for active-duty service members with dependents whose household income falls below federal poverty guidelines for their duty location. The new program promotes economic security for Soldiers and their families facing financial challenges.

Additionally, the Army increased retention bonuses this year, giving more money to Soldiers in critical military occupational specialties. The service met its retention goal for the fourth year in a row.

Housing 

The Army remains committed to improving its infrastructure; and, in 2023, made significant investments in housing.

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth pledged to invest $1.5 billion in Army-owned housing and another $3.1 billion in privatized housing. Through the Army’s financial investment plan, the service awarded 45 barracks projects in fiscal year 2023 totaling $1.07 billion.

Barracks projects will continue to see an increased emphasis, said Jordan Matthews, Army Material Command facilities division chief. “These investments directly affect the quality of life of Soldiers and families on Army installations and reflect our commitment to people – the Army’s top priority.”

Army leadership is working to provide 100% sustainment funding for barracks and to spend more on renovation and construction.

Health

As part of the Army’s ongoing efforts to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking mental health support, the Army approved its Brandon Act policy in September.

The new directive allows Soldiers to confidentially seek help through their leaders in the rank of staff sergeant and above, and charges leadership to connect Soldiers with resources quickly.

Soldiers are not required to provide a reason or basis to request a referral. The policy applies to Soldiers in the regular Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve who are on active duty for over 30 days.

Guidance for Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers not on active duty is under development.

For Soldiers’ physical health, the Army rolled out its new Body Composition Program in June to assess a Soldier’s body fat more accurately. The policy replaces the older two-measurement test with a one-site tape test across the belly button.

And in March the Army released a directive exempting all Soldiers scoring 540 points or more on the Army Combat Fitness Test from the body fat assessment, regardless of their height and weight. Soldiers must score 80 points or more in each event.

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