Military families have many of the same needs as their civilian counterparts, but problems such as spouse unemployment and lack of child care are often exacerbated by the frequent moves and deployments that come with military life.

DOD and service officials have been working to improve quality of life for those families, especially by tackling spouse unemployment and child care shortages.

Bases worldwide offer families a wide variety of support services, from legal assistance and tax preparation to education and employment assistance, financial counseling, relocation assistance and much more.

To find out more about what’s available, start with the family centers on military installations or, which offers additional assistance by phone or chat, 24 hours a day.

Most of the information on Military OneSource is available to the public, but some extra services are available for free to service members and their immediate family members, survivors of deceased service members, and certain others. Retiring or separating service members and their immediate family members can also use these services for one year after they leave the service.

Among those services are nonmedical counseling — available in person, by phone, secure chat or video session — as well as financial counseling, including free tax preparation and tax filing help. Spouse employment and education services, language translation services for documents, health and wellness coaching, child/youth behavioral counseling, and family life counseling are also available.

Spouse employment and education

Spouses can visit their installation’s family center for employment and education assistance. They can also visit the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities, or SECO, section at for information about scholarships and other education and employment needs. SECO offers a free, personalized benefit through certified career counselors to help spouses investigate career options, education options or entrepreneurial projects.

Through DOD’s My Career Advancement Account program, or MyCAA, spouses of certain junior service members can receive tuition assistance of up to $4,000, with an annual cap of $2,000, to pursue licenses, certifications or associate degrees needed for employment in any career field or occupation. Spouses may also use their MyCAA scholarship at an approved institution to help with the costs of national tests for course credits required for a degree approved under the MyCAA program.

This benefit is available to spouses of active duty members at the grades of E-1 to E-6, W-1 and W-2, and O-1 to O-3. DOD expanded the benefit in 2023 to spouses of members in paygrades E-6 and O-3, limited to the first 1,250 spouses in those two ranks per calendar year. Military spouses remain eligible for this financial assistance if their military sponsor is promoted beyond the eligible ranks, as long as they already have an approved education-and-training plan in place through the program.

Spouses can also search job opportunities on the Military Spouse Employment Partnership site, where hundreds of employers that have been vetted by the Defense Department are looking to hire military spouses.

More than 700 employers are MSEP partners. As the number has grown over the past decade, those employers have hired over more than 275,000 military spouses across every employment sector, according to DOD. A number of these employers have remote work opportunities. In addition, through Military OneSource, spouses can get a free one-year membership to FlexJobs, a career platform that specializes in flexible and remote job openings.

Many military spouses spend time and money getting new professional licenses when they move to a new state. It costs money to sit for exams, plus other fees and the potential of lost pay as they go through the relicensing process. To help with these expenses, the law allows service members to apply to their service branch for reimbursement of up to $1,000 for their spouse’s relicensing and recertification costs each time they relocate on military orders.

The Department of Labor offers information about state professional licensing requirements here — specifically for military spouses.

What’s new

States must recognize professional licenses from other states. A federal law that took effect in 2023 requires states to provide reciprocity of professional licenses, except for attorneys, to military spouses. But it remains to be seen how states are implementing the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act.

The new law has helped at least one spouse prevail in federal court, after the woman sued Texas for blocking her ability to work as a school counselor.

A new paid fellowship program allows spouses to be placed with civilian companies seeking full-time employees. The Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot program is free to employers, and DOD will pay spouses during their 12-week fellowships. The program is entering its second year; about 250 companies had signed up to participate, bringing nearly 500 spouses into fellowships as of January.

The accelerator pilot is open to spouses of currently serving members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force, to include the active, Reserve and National Guard components. The hope is that companies will hire the spouses at the end of their 12-week fellowships. To date, about 85% of participants have been offered full-time employment with their host companies.

Spouses interested in applying can visit Military OneSource Spouse Education and Career Opportunities.

Companies interested in hosting a military spouse fellow can learn more and sign up through the Hiring Our Heroes website. The fellowship program is administered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Child care

The Defense Department’s child care systems include more than 700 child development centers, facilities for school-age children and a number of family child care homes at more than 230 locations worldwide. All are required to adhere to DOD regulations. These programs are nationally recognized for their quality, and programs meet strict standards for curriculum, safety and health.

There has long been a shortage of affordable, good quality child care for military families, just as there is a shortage nationwide. Although the military is building more child development centers, officials argue the problem can’t be solved by construction alone and have launched various initiatives, like staffing incentives, to ease the care crunch.

Child care fees are set on a sliding scale based on total family income, to include spouse income and other sources, and are the same regardless of a child’s age. In January 2024, many military families saw a large and welcome decrease in those fees — in some cases, a cut of more than 40%, according to Military Times’ calculations.

Not all families have seen those costs dip. In the highest income bracket, now set at $160,001 and above, service members are paying $215 a week. That’s a 2% increase over the amount those in the highest income category previously paid.

Families can learn more about the child care options offered at or near their installation at the official DOD website, The website gives parents more visibility into the available child care slots at multiple installations in a given area, and allows them to register and apply for child care in advance. Families can submit unlimited requests for child care, and remain on waitlists for a preferred program even after being offered care elsewhere.

Working military families receive higher priority in child care programs under DOD policy. The policy also allows officials to displace children who are already in a child development program if their parents are in a lower-priority category, and the gaining family expects to be on a wait list for more than 45 days after the time they need care.

Other child care options

Military families may also find child care through family-run sites in on-base homes, which undergo rigorous certification, inspection and oversight. Any family-run child care provider on an installation who offers child care for other families’ kids for at least 10 hours a week must be certified through installation officials. Families can get lists of certified home day cares at their installation’s child development program office, and on the website.

Military families can also find high-quality, subsidized child care in their local civilian community if care is not available on base. Families must register at the website for fee assistance through the program, operated through the nonprofit Child Care Aware of America.

Another option for finding hourly and on-demand child care: Families can receive a paid subscription to a service that lets them search for child care providers through Military OneSource. DOD covers the cost of the subscription.

What’s new

In the last few years, Congress has authorized funding to build more child development centers — 16 in fiscal 2023, and nine in the fiscal 2024 defense policy law. It generally takes about five years to finish construction and open the facilities.

DOD and the services are looking at new ways to ease the child care shortage, such as streamlining the hiring process for new staff and offering workers better pay and benefits. Officials argue staffing shortages are a major factor in the scarcity of child care facilities.

Congress has also approved a DOD pilot program that provides fee assistance for in-home child care. It’s currently available in 11 regions, with limited spaces available. Find more information at

Tax-savings accounts for child care

To help ease the cost of child care for military families, DOD began offering the dependent care flexible spending account program. In 2023, service members for the first time could opt to have part of their pay set aside in a spending account in 2024 to reimburse eligible expenses.

Active duty members and Active Guard Reserve members on Title 10 orders who pay for the care of an eligible dependent may use the benefit. Eligible dependents include children under age 13, or dependents of any age if they are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves.

This is a pre-tax benefit account used to help pay for eligible dependent care services, such as preschool, summer day camp, before or after school programs, and child or adult day care. Married couples filing joint tax returns can set aside $100 to $5,000 to help pay for those expenses. Since it’s deducted from your pay and put into your account before taxes, it reduces your overall tax burden. You submit claims for dependent care expenses to be reimbursed from that account.

You can enroll online through the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program, known as FSAFEDS, sponsored by the Office of Personnel Management.

Enrollment is available only during the annual Federal Benefits Open Season — mid-November through mid-December — or when experiencing a qualifying life event such as the birth or adoption of a child.

Service members enrolled in the program last fall are now submitting claims for reimbursement. Be aware that any funds in your account that you don’t use within certain federal deadlines are forfeited. If you don’t use all the money you’ve contributed to your account by Dec. 31, 2024, you’ll have until March 15, 2025 to use the funds for qualified expenses. Claims must be submitted by April 30, 2025 for dependent care expenses.

Read more from the 2024 Pay and Benefits Guide here.

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.

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