Leaders at Family Forum pledge to continue improving programs

| November 4, 2010 | 0 Comments

Elizabeth M. Collins
Army News Service

CaseyWASHINGTON — Proving that they’re the toughest members of the Army, spouses and family readiness group leaders hammered the secretary of the Army, the chief of staff and other top leaders with questions, concerns and compliments at the first Family Forum of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition, here, Oct. 25.  

“In order to be effective, we have to make sure that we are taking care of those things that the Soldier truly cares about,” said John McHugh, secretary of the Army, to the standing-room-only crowds at the forum. 

“One of the first things every Soldier brings up, is how much they care about (and) how concerned they are with the welfare of those loved ones they left behind: their spouses (and) their family members,” McHugh said. “We view this as a moral responsibility. 

“As part of the Army family, we in leadership owe you the kinds of programs and initiatives that take care of your Soldiers, but also take care of you … I know that for all of our good efforts, sometimes we come short,” he said.

It fell to Gen. George Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, to find out exactly what is and isn’t working from the hundreds of family members at the forum, by conducting the third annual vote on the Army Family Covenant, giving both sides a rare opportunity for total frankness.

“I’m not going to stand up here and tell you all the great things we’ve done under the Army Family Covenant,” Casey said. “I need to understand how it’s impacting on you all.” 

He added that the current spending level of $1.7 billion on family programs will be sustained during the next five-year spending plan, but asked that family members help identify redundancies in those programs, so that the money can be used even more effectively, “in programs we really need.”

The goal Casey announced a few years ago, of standardizing family programs across installations, received mixed reviews from the audience, while Army OneSource and family readiness support assistance were wildly cheered and applauded.

Access to quality health care was both booed and cheered, and seemed to vary by installation, as did respite care for exceptional family members, housing and education. One mother explained that the quality of high schools near installations was especially bad, an issue Casey said the Army is working on closely with state and local government officials. He pointed out that millions have been spent on child care, but the mothers present mostly booed that, as well.

“OK, I can hardly wait for the last one — expanding education employment opportunities for family members? Actually, that was a pleasant surprise,” Casey said, after receiving a mixed reaction to changes to Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts, commonly known as MyCAA, a program that provides job training-funding for spouses. 

To stay solvent, MyCAA recently had to drastically limit eligibility. 

During the question and answer period following Casey’s remarks, another spouse expressed a concern about whether spouses were actually being discriminated against in the Army civilian hiring process, instead of receiving preference. The chief immediately said an inspector general investigation may be in order. 

“We will keep working on this … we think we’ve made progress, but you never stop, and your feedback is very important,” he said. “The only way that we can fix things, is to keep shining a spotlight on them.”

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