You're doing what to MyCAA'

Education program for spouses gets make-over

Commentary by Emily Athens

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - (Sept. 30, 2010) -- The Department of Defense Military Career Advancement Account for spouses changed drastically ... and rapidly, affecting spouses everywhere who were beginning or advancing their education and careers. More specifically, the MyCAA program, which initially granted $6,000 to any spouse of a military service member completing prep courses, certifications, trainings and degree programs, is now only offering $4,000 with a cap or 2k per year to spouses of service members and activated Reservists in certain pay grades and only those spouses completing professional certifications, licensures or two-year associate degrees.

I have to say that I am one of the lucky ones who completed my master's and utilized the full amount, but that doesn't mean I didn't feel the slap when the announcement came out about these changes.

The grant program empowered me and gave me a new realization that just because I'm a military wife, doesn't mean I can't pursue any opportunities that come my way. In hindsight I see now that the program wasn't meant to fund those seeking a master's degree, but then why didn't they turn me down from the get-go' The true intent of the program was never made clear. I was just told I could get $6,000 for education and I didn't care how, why or when, I just asked, "where do I sign up'"

If its intent was to support portable careers, why didn't they lay down the law before we spouses started robbing them' The DoD was unfortunately shortsighted and didn't realize how many people would apply. It also seems they didn't have any set plan for which direction the program should take. Because of this, spouses are now having to put a hold on their progression for financial reasons; others are being thwarted from even pursuing their career goals because they are considered ineligible due to rank or career path.

Cutbacks on monetary limits are understandable; cut-downs on us because of rank and career choices aren't.

It went from rewarding us for being military spouses to seemingly penalizing us for not marrying our Soldier earlier or lowering our educational and career goals. Shame on us for being linked to a Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine who "makes too much money."
But what about the captain's or staff sergeant's wife with four children who married young, raised her kids, stood by her hero and put her career and life goals on hold - only to now have the desire to go back to school, utilize the MyCAA moneys and realize she doesn't qualify because of her husband's rank' Who's to say that those who fall within the rank structure even need further education' I know plenty of spouses of junior enlisted Soldiers who have their bachelors and even master's degree and maintain job security.

Overall, I think the idea of the program is great. The fact that they are helping spouses pursue their vocational and educational goals is admirable. However, the execution of the program is disappointing. I won't debate that MyCAA needs to exist, but it does need to keep its promises.

There are other, less insulting ways to cap program costs without dividing spouses based on their Soldier's rank. Why not look at combined household income instead'
In 2009, when I heard about MyCAA, I remember thinking it was too good to be true. And apparently it was.

(Editor's note: Emily Athens is a photojournalist assigned to the Fort Leonard Wood GUIDON.)