From Armed Forces Day to Memorial Day to Military Spouse Appreciation Day, May is a month that honors our veterans in many different ways. But we still have work to do in how we recognize and support their families.
Can we really address veterans’ needs separate from the challenges faced by the family as a whole? The answer is no, unless we change what we are doing. We can do more to provide spouses the support they need to continue essential caregiving for veterans and to rebuild their families’ emotional and economic health.
Spouses are vital to veterans’ successful transition into civilian life and in veterans’ recovery process when they require treatment. It is often a wife, husband or partner who actively encourages a veteran to seek treatment in order to save the marriage or to improve their children’s relationship with the parent. The spouse also becomes the family’s breadwinner when a veteran is unable to work.
While a veteran might receive pension and disability pay, the money is not enough to provide for a family transitioning to a new life in a new home. An employed spouse allows the veteran time to find appropriate, higher-income employment, instead of being forced to take the first available job in order to support the family. Unfortunately, spouse unemployment and underemployment are among the most common issues military and veteran families face.
In a recent survey by Blue Star Families, 75 percent of spouses said their status as military spouses negatively impacted their careers. They indicated that military spouse employment is the top obstacle to financial security. In fact, the Military Officers Association of America and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University conducted their own survey in 2013 and found a whopping 90 percent of responding female spouses of active duty service members are underemployed.
We are ignoring a huge issue affecting the resiliency of our military and veteran families.
Many factors contribute to these high rates. During a veteran’s service, the spouse often must put his or her own career and education on hold. Frequent moves lead to school transfers, unfinished degrees, disjointed resumes with strings of short-term employments, professional licensure issues that may bar a spouse from practicing in a new state, and reluctance from employers to hire someone who may soon move. Spouses deserve equal preference for employment afforded to the veterans they care for and support.
Spouses of veterans should receive career counseling, internships and preferential hiring just like veterans.
There is a common saying among the caregiver community: Put on your own oxygen mask first. This metaphor recognizes that it is impossible to take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself. Spouses and caregivers are so used to playing a supporting role, they often forget about their own needs. For the sake of our communities and our veterans, we can’t afford to ignore these hidden heroes. We must do more for the spouses of our veterans.