WASHINGTON – The Army is doubling its investment in family support programs in the 2009 budget and will use that money to hire support personnel for family readiness groups, improve child care, and expand educational opportunities for spouses and children of troops, the Army secretary announced recently.
The Army has been building on several years of emphasis on better support for families, Pete Geren told online journalists and “bloggers” during a conference call.
The 2009 budget for family support programs will be $1.4 billion, up from $700 million last year. Through traveling to different Army bases and talking with Soldiers and spouses, Army leaders have learned that child care and family support are important issues for troops, he said.
“So much of the family support over the years has been based on volunteers, where you have spouses that carry the heaviest burden for family support initiatives,” Geren said. “One deployment, perhaps that works; two deployments, that’s starting to be too much to ask; and three deployments is pushing those volunteers to the breaking point.”
To remedy this problem, Geren said, the Army will use its expanded budget to hire full-time support personnel for family readiness groups to help spouses who also have to balance career and family responsibilities. The Army also will hire more staff for child care and youth services, he said.
Another important issue the Army is working on is improving career opportunities for spouses of soldiers as they have to relocate around the country, Geren said. The Army has started the spouse employment partnership, working with industry across the country to provide greater spousal employment opportunities, he said, and the secretaries of defense and labor have entered into a joint venture to expand employment opportunities for military spouses.
Geren added that the Army is seeking to better manage the force so soldiers and their families face fewer moves throughout their careers, to give spouses more opportunities for education and professional development, and to work with employers to identify more opportunities for Army spouses.
“With the economy that we have now, … there are opportunities today for spouses that wouldn’t have existed a very few years ago,” Geren said. “And as an Army, we need to explore how we can use the Internet economy and use the virtual economy to help spouses, whether their employment skills are blue collar or professional.”
Geren also addressed improvements the Army has made in medical care for wounded soldiers since last year, when problems were revealed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Army has established 35 warrior transition units, which are aimed solely at helping wounded soldiers recover, and has hired about 2,500 personnel to man those units, he said. Every soldier assigned to a warrior transition unit has three people who are responsible for him — a squad leader, a nurse case manager and a primary care physician — to ensure that soldier’s needs are met, both physically and mentally, Geren said.
“The whole concept of the warrior transition unit is to provide this triad of support that meets the full range of a warrior in transition’s care and needs,” he explained.
This summer, the Army is launching a program to educate all soldiers on suicide prevention, Geren said. This program is following on the success of the education program on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, he said, and every soldier will be required to take the course.
For more information on the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline, call 1-800-984-8523, overseas DSN 312-328-0002, stateside DSN 328-0002 or e-mail email@example.com.