Initiatives Tackle Key Issues for Military Families

Initiatives Tackle Key Issues for Military Families

Soldier with family
Photo by: Maine National Guard

The Pentagon is working to address key issues affecting soldiers and their families, including food insecurity, access to child care and affordable housing, a senior leader said during a Thought Leaders webinar hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army. 

Issues that affect military families are intimately connected with readiness and retention, said Patricia Barron, deputy assistant defense secretary for military community and family policy. 

“Our service members cannot do whatever it is that they need to do if they’re worried about what’s going on back home,” Barron, an Army spouse who previously was AUSA’s director of Family Readiness, said Nov. 23. 

“If the … military spouse is not feeling as if there’s opportunities for employment, opportunities for career progression, of belonging within a community and a way to raise their children … that spouse is going to say to that service member, ‘We're done,’ ” she said.

To get after some of the issues facing military families, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Nov. 17 announcing several new initiatives.  

One area of concern is food insecurity. While “additional data collection and analysis” is needed to get a better picture of how the issue is affecting military families, DoD will help right away, Austin said.

“I will not delay in implementing solutions to aid those who we know are in need. The Department will provide immediate relief to alleviate economic insecurity,” Austin writes. “We must also eliminate the stigma that many feel when seeking help, particularly when it comes to accessing food, and we must encourage everyone to use available resources.” 

As many as one in three soldiers faces food insecurity, meaning they don’t have enough money to cover the cost of food for themselves and their family consistently, according to an Army press release. 

DoD resources, including the Military Leaders Economic Security Toolkit, available here on the Military OneSource website, are designed to help leaders have conversations with their soldiers about sensitive subjects, Barron said. 

“[Leaders] need to know, how do I even approach my soldier,” she said. “We’ve got a toolkit that has been vetted and used by many federal agencies that helps you to ... get after the answer that will allow you to say, ‘I feel like there might be a challenge here, and here’s what I want you to do.’ ” 

DoD also is working to improve access to child care, particularly after it saw increased need during the COVID-19 pandemic, Barron said. 

“What the pandemic … showed us was that child care is not just a nice to have, you’ve got to have it. If you’re going to go to work, you’ve got to have your child care in place,” Barron said. 

New programs underway include a fee assistance program that helps military families pay for full-time, in-home child care providers, and the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood-PLUS program, which connects families with approved child care centers in their local community.

As the Pentagon tackles quality-of-life issues for military families, a close partnership with the services is key, Barron said. 

“As we move forward with some of the new initiatives that are coming down the pike, we will be working even closer with our service counterparts to make sure that we all do this together,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s for the best for our military families. We want them to thrive.”

Watch the webinar here.