Top Army leaders stressed the importance of family programs Tuesday during a town hall meeting, but offered few specific fixes to common complaints regarding child care, Tricare and change-of-station moves.
Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy pledged to solidify funding “we need to support the force,” saying money issues have led to an unpredictable environment “that creates churn and complexities” for families. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said changing demographics mean the service must “elevate taking care of soldiers and families to a very high order in our resource prioritization in order to maintain readiness.” Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey said that while soldiers believe the Army is doing its best to support families, “a break in that bond in the future could cause a significant degradation of the morale of our families and our soldiers.”
The trio encouraged families to contact leadership with input on family programs, with Milley even offering Dailey’s cellphone number to the hundreds attending the Association of the U.S. Army-sponsored panel and those watching on the Army’s Facebook page.
Answers to specific questions came with a similar theme:
- Asked about extensive wait times for child care at some posts (18 to 24 months for families in Kaiserslautern, Germany, per one questioner), Milley said he’d look into the issue. The average wait is 90 days, according to a child care subject matter expert.
- Asked about the lack of doctors who are willing to accept Tricare, Milley referred the question to an official with Army Medical Command, who said availability varies from location to location. “It’s a constant effort” on the part of Tricare contractors responsible for building the networks of providers “to deliver the care when you need it,” the official said, adding that soldiers and family member need to let Tricare officials know if there are problems.
- Asked about providing medical service dogs to soldiers, Milley said he’d “dig into” the matter, understanding there is a cost, but that “if some soldier out there has done something for his country and requires a dog, we get them a dog.”
- Asked about permanent change-of-station moves that result in damaged household goods, Milley said he’d compile some data, calling the act of moving “painful.” While “the vast majority of military moves are done relatively smoothly with little or no damage,” he said, “that’s not an excuse. It happens. It happens too much. One time is too many.”
Dailey rattled off some PCS-related issues he’d heard of while compiling material for Defense Department officials: Problems with the service received from some moving company personnel who come to service members’ homes, the bureaucratic process in filing claims; and the lack of support at the installation level.
He’s had some meetings with U.S. Transportation Command, and said he’s aware there are industry issues with the availability of labor, for example. TRANSCOM took over the responsibilities of managing the household goods moves of military members on Oct. 1; previously it was handled by the Army Surface and Deployment Distribution Command.
Dailey said as he talks to soldiers and family members in the field about issues overall, he gets a sense that they believe things will get better in the future.
“They have hopes in the civilian leadership of the nation as well as our military leadership, that we’re going to continue to provide them with the necessary resources to provide them a level of care commensurate to the level of service of their soldier,” he said.
“Families understand the fiscal restraints that we’re under. They do understand that we have to make very tough choices when it comes to putting the right rifle in our soldiers’ hands, or to continue to sustain certain family programs. They truly do believe that we’re doing what’s in the best interest of them, which is taking care of our soldiers first,” he said.
Army policy gives installation commanders the authority to make decisions to fund the programs that are necessary for those families in that geographic location, he said.
“If we continue to listen to our families ... and continue to fight for the necessary resources we need to have the way of life for our soldiers and families commensurate to winning on the battlefield, then we’ll be just fine for the future,” he said.
Milley reiterated that one of his top priorities is taking care of soldiers and families, and noted that about 60 percent of soldiers are married with, on average, a family of four.
“If there are overwhelming needs and concerns at home, that soldier will become a much less ready soldier,” Milley said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.