Family Forum / By Judy Konitzer: AUSA’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Exposition was held in Washington D.C. from October 14-16, and thanks to technology I was able to view many of the live forums and events as can you at ausa.org/events/2019-annual-meeting/live-stream.
During “The Family Forum Army Senior Leaders Town Hall,” The Honorable Ryan D. McCarthy, Secretary of the Army; GEN James C. McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army; and SMA Michael A. Grinston, Sergeant Major of the Army, shared their philosophy and responded to questions from the audience, as well as from other venues. They collectively agreed that “our Army is people!” and “providing a quality of life that is commensurate with the quality of services our soldiers, families, civilians, retired, and veterans provide is what allows us to ensure readiness, modernization, and reform.” 60 % of Active Duty Soldiers have families, and based on surveys, it was noted that spousal support is a good predictor of a Soldiers intention to stay in the military. So, five top priorities this year are housing, health care, childcare & youth services, spouse employment, and PCS moves.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston participate in a family forum during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15, 2019./ U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SGT DANA CLARKE
GEN McConville acknowledged having challenges with Housing and made a determined promise to fix it. Although privatizing housing by outsourcing to contractors seemed like a great idea at its inception, what followed was some lessening of oversight and inspections from commanders at some installations. As an increasing number of families brought attention to problems with mold, lead, etc. in their military housing with no resolution at the local level, the Army Senior Staff had candid conversations with CEO’s of privatized companies to discuss what they needed to do to honor their contracts and fix the problems.
He thanked families for bringing much needed attention to the housing problems and to continue feeling empowered to do so beginning at the local level. If there is no satisfaction there, then they should feel free to elevate their concerns up thru the complete chain of command until there is resolution. “You have a voice!” Continuous feedback thru Army Family Action Plans (AFAP), surveys, and chain of command is what brings about policy changes, and even then, exceptions can be made.
Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) are undergoing the transition to the Defense Health Agency (DHA) and treatment for Soldiers and their families should not degrade during this process. It is envisioned that better care with less cost will be the outcome and Electronic Health Records can be shared during transfers. The military system will not change and senior Commanders at each facility will be responsible for oversight and working closely to remedy concerns if there are problems. The diagnosis of Autism has been a challenge for portability, but a new policy is being researched to make it easier for continuing treatment at new duty stations.
Childcare facilities are increasing their capacity and reducing the wait lists brought about by an increased demand and need for immediate availability, especially during transitions.
Spousal employment issues have gained increased attention with many spouses needing to supplement their family’s income as well as professional spouses seeking the ability to use their skills. Currently there are more programs in place for portability of licenses and reimbursement for fees required. And cutting through bureaucracy and red tape to properly address resumes for federal and NAF jobs can be achieved at any ACS Employment Readiness Section. Additionally, there is also more flexibility in recognizing and validating home based businesses on post especially for childcare providers.
Summer is the peak season for PCS moves, but many contractors have not been doing the job they are being paid for. More trained inspectors using standardized checklists have been hired to validate carrier services and rank order them based on surveys. If a servicemember is assigned a company from a lower tier they can refuse and request reassignment. Other initiatives being considered are allowing Soldiers to make career choices based on stabilizing in one location and simplifying reimbursements for DITY moves.
SGM Grinston ended with the fact that many junior spouses remain uninformed even with having social media. He recommended “be the sponsor we wish you had, and it doesn’t have to be a GO (General Officer) to make things happen.”