WASHINGTON – The Army’s new Quality of Life Task Force has reached full operational capability, service leaders announced July 16, and it is laser-focused on six priorities to improve conditions for Soldiers and their families.
To address one of those priorities – increased access to childcare – the Army will open 10 new child development centers by fiscal 2025, said Lt. Gen. Jason Evans, Army G-9 director. He and other Army leaders make up the task force, which was formally chartered in March to also improve housing, health care, spouse employment, permanent change-of-station moves, and upgrading the quality of living for Soldiers stationed in remote locations.
“We’re focused on making life better for Soldiers and families wherever the Army takes them,” Evans said during the task force’s first media event. “We still have more work to do.”
Through the help of the task force, child and youth services has provided incentives for care providers and added 100 more of them in the past year, Evans noted.
Additionally, the Army will expand a fee assistance program that provides financial aid to military families in order to offset civilian child care costs when that service is not available or suitable on-post. The Army also has been testing a pilot program in Maryland and Virginia to increase the number of civilian child care providers by expediting the certification process.
Helen Roadarmel, program manager for Army CYS, said about 77 percent of its Child Development Centers have reopened after being closed due to COVID-19. Children of care providers and mission-essential workers will receive first priority for enrollment, followed by single and dual military parents, and service members with working spouses. During the pandemic, centers remained open on a limited basis with priority given to families of mission-essential personnel.
To address housing, another QOL priority, the Army has hired an additional 114 workers who are providing quality assurance and extra sets of eyes during privatized housing inspections.
“I can tell you with great confidence that we, the Army, have much better oversight and management of the product (privatized) partners are providing to Soldiers and their families,” said Greg Jackson, chief of the Army Housing Division. “At the installation level, the housing offices have been equipped and trained, and are continuing to be trained, on providing quality assurance.”
During PCS moves – offered Maj. Gen. Michel Russell, assistant director of Army G-4 –installation transportation offices are tracking the health of contracted movers and whether Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are followed. The speed and efficiency of moves are monitored and appointments are tracked as well.
“Quality of life is something that can't be done overnight, and it certainly has been a challenge in 2020 because of COVID-19,” Evans said. “We've worked hard to continue to provide critical resources for Soldiers and families.”
Staying on the topic of housing, Jackson said more than 5 percent of all work orders are being randomly reviewed for timeliness and customer satisfaction. Home inspections are no longer undisciplined visual examinations, but rather a full assessment of the functionality of home systems including HVAC and electric wiring.
Housing officers have received special training on how to identify and locate different mold conditions and how to mitigate the problem. There also has been reported progress in solving potential problems with homes before a resident moves in.
To keep military housing occupants better informed, a mobile application has been developed that allows tenants to track work orders and gain access to the fall 2019 housing survey results. The “Hunt Resident App” recently replaced “RentCafe.” Fort Lee residents can find it in the Apple, Android or Google Play stores.
In February, the Defense Department released the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights to help residents identify their entitlements as well as standardize customer service at each duty station. An article about that document was published last week in the Traveller.
Military housing occupants receiving unsatisfactory customer service can now call a resident hotline (804-734-6300 at Fort Lee) or they can report problems through the Soldier’s chain of command.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act increased reimbursement for relicensing costs to $1,000 when a military spouse moves to another state due to a PCS move. Just over a week ago, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation that will expedite the licensure transfer process (see article at www.fortleetraveller.com).
“What we need next is reciprocity,” Evans said, referring to the complications of spouse relicensing that still exist in other states. “We need all states to adapt (new policies). We have the governors who have been engaged in this and, to some degree, have implemented laws for state licensing and reciprocity, but it's not across the board. So that is one thing we’d like to see happen.”
The Civilian Employment Assignment Tool also has expanded its reach to help spouses who are non-appropriated fund employees make a non-competitive transfer to other duty stations at the same pay grade and skill level.
The Army approved assignment incentive pay for Soldiers stationed at some locations in Alaska and is working to improve educational opportunities like advanced high school courses through virtual education at Fort Irwin, Calif., and Fort Polk, La, Evans said.
The use of telemedicine and virtual healthcare during the pandemic, particularly in primary care, also has helped assure Soldiers continue to receive a high standard of treatment.
Members of the task force have promised to keep the Army community updated on new developments as they happen.