Bloggers' Roundtable with Secretary Pete Geren

Some of you (one of you?) may remember my opportunity to speak with the then-acting Secretary of the Army, Mr. Pete Geren when he visited Schofield Barracks back in July of 2007. This morning I had yet another opportunity to speak with him on a variety of subjects including the Army Family Covenant and the Army's work on transforming warrior care for it's servicemembers.

There were 6 other bloggers involved so I was only able to ask one of the questions I had prepared. My question was:

With regard to the Army Family Covenant, can you clarify the Army's position on the use of paid FRG (Family Readiness Group) positions? Will this be a global policy? A regional one? And how is the decision made to hire versus when to rely solely on volunteers?

Mr. Geren clarified that this policy is global and will be implemented all the way down to the Battalion level. In the past these paid positions were only instituted down to the Brigade level but the Army is beginning to realize (finally) the strain that multiple deployments places on it's volunteers.

The Army is increasing the amount of money it is spending on family support programs from $700 million to $1.4 billion in FY2009 and a large percentage of that will go toward these paid FRG positions.

Here in Hawaii, we have already seen evidence of the Army Family Covenant in action - at the level of Children and Youth Services (to include free registration, increased respite care hours, free or discounted classes, etc.), increased services at physical fitness centers, etc. Hopefully this trend will continue (us military spouses are a skeptical bunch, especially when it comes to promises made and often broken) and the money will be put to good use.

I did not have time to ask the remainder of my questions but I'll post them here and see what you all have to say.

1. What else can military families expect to see from the Army Family Covenant in the future?

2. With regard to the transformation of warrior care, what steps are being taken to tackle the issue of PTSD outside of the Warrior Transition Units? What is being done for the soldier that needs assistance with PTSD issues that are not severe enough to warrant placement in the WTU? What level of care can they expect to receive?

3. What percentage of medical personnel at military treatment facilities (MTFs) are being trained to recognize and treat the servicemember properly? Is the Army planning to go beyond the "chain teach" model that it has implemented and truly get the medical professionals the training necessary to tackle this complex problem?

4. Accessibility of health care for geographically separated, Guard, and Reserve families that have no Tricare providers within a reasonable distance. How is this being addressed? Is it possible to work toward the goal of having a Tricare provider in EVERY COUNTY so that geographically separated, Guard, and Reserve families can actually access the care they are entitled to when they are eligible?

5. Employment. The assistance being offered to spouses to help them secure education in order to increase their opportunities in the workforce are commendable. However, there is a large segment of the military spouse population that is already highly educated but are running into significant barriers when it comes to finding a job. the bias against military spouses can even be seen in the mid-level government positions (how many GS9+ positions are actually held by military spouses??). Does the possibility exist for military spouses to seek assistance in terms of securing professional credentials? A friend of mine wrote:

Businesses that pay for training materials and the credentialing process for their employees tend to overlook military spouses who they know will not be with them long. I cannot blame these companies but it is also a huge monetary outlay that most military families cannot afford. Even if a spouse has obtained credentials, most require ongoing education requirements to keep the credential and if the spouse is moved to a location without job prospects, they cannot afford to keep up their credentials. I would love to have my PMP (project management) or be a FACHE (Fellow American College of Healthcare Executives) but cannot afford the process. At the same time, these are just about mandatory in order to obtain jobs in these areas. Quite the catch 22.

It is so true. I would love to pursue additional credentials that would make me much more marketable once I get somewhere that I can re-enter the workforce. But the cost (while having no income) is highly prohibitive. I would love to become a Nationally Board Certified Teacher but the cost is HIGHLY prohibitive ($3,000+) and the process is not really conducive to someone who is not currently teaching. Such is the life of a military spouse.

The Secretary did state that there is an on-going joint venture between the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Labor to increase employment opportunities for military spouses and that he is also working with General Casey to increase the opportunities as well.

In addition, there is an on-going process that will offer GI Bill benefits to military spouses and children. Currently it is in the "pilot phase". Jack Army did a post about it all a few days ago if you're interested in more information. Personally speaking, WE paid into the program, WE should be able to determine where it is used. MacGyver already has his degree and doesn't plan to go any further with it and if he does, he can do so for a fraction of the cost by going through the Army. So, rather than let OUR money go to waste, why not give the families the option of using that money to pay for our children's college education or our own college education in order to improve our quality of life? He did mention that scholarships can be found at America Supports You but I've not yet found them. I'll post the link when I do.

He then went on to discuss a plan that will be launched next summer. The plan is to "chain teach" every member of the military to recognize the signs of suicidal behavior and how to help the person secure treatment. He also plugged Military One Source as a portal for geographically disbursed families, partnering Active Duty locations/amenities with those families that are not near military bases.

And in April, a new Community Covenant will be launched, thanking communities for their support of military families with the hope of identifying other partners to assist specifically those families that are geographically disbursed.

In closing, he reminded us of the Wounded Soldier Family Hotline as a way to identify problems early and address them. He said that they (he?) are briefed each week on the issues that arise and their status. Hopefully that will help to prevent issues from becoming as big as they have in the past by giving servicemembers and families another way of getting their concerns heard.

All in all, it was an incredible experience that I would love to have the opportunity to do again! Thanks Andi!


- hfs

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