“Military spouses embody the courage, nobility of duty and love of country that inspire every American. On Military Spouse Day, we pay tribute to the husbands and wives who support their spouses in America's armed forces during times of war and peace.”
These words were spoken by Pres. George W. Bush on May 11, to mark Military Spouse Day, a holiday created 24 years ago, but that remains virtually unknown. When I recently learned about it, I wondered whether the lack of publicity meant military spouses are unappreciated?
Not necessarily. In his speech, Pres. Bush recognized the “uncommon challenges, sleepless nights and long periods of raising children alone” that military spouses face. While these challenges certainly deserve recognition, I find it very telling that nowhere in his speech did the president mention the "invisible sacrifice" of military spouses — job and career aspirations.
When Pres. Reagan issued a proclamation creating Military Spouse Day, he talked about spouses "subordinating their personal and professional aspirations." He was right on. In the workplace, military spouses face unique, yet largely unrecognized challenges. Unlike their civilian counterparts, they may have changed jobs five times in the past 10 years, or gone without working for extended periods of time. Frequent job changes and the possibility of relocation make many employers reluctant to hire a military spouse, even if they’re more qualified than a civilian. At worst, they may face flat-out discrimination.
For years, very little was done to remedy this situation. But now an important piece of legislation could help change things. The Military Spouse Employment Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, would provide a tax credit incentive to employers who hire military spouses. Depending on the number of hours the spouse works, employers would be eligible for a credit of up to 40 percent for the first $6,000 in wages. After the bill failed to pass in 2007, it was reintroduced this year and is currently stalled in the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee.
Why should you care? For starters, there are about 700,000 active-duty military spouses, 65 percent of whom work, according to the Military Spouse Business Association. And statistics from a 2004 RAND study show that while military spouses are generally younger and better educated than their civilian counterparts, they are also more likely to be unemployed or earn less. Since spouses form the backbone of moral, emotional, and sometimes even financial support behind our soldiers, their well being is essential to the performance of our armed forces. The Military Officer's Association of America supports the bill, saying in a statement, "Spouse employment is pivotal to sustaining the all volunteer force for a strong national defense ... further delaying implementing legislative or policy spouse employment measures devalues military spouse contributions and poses a risk to long term military readiness."
I'd like to urge all my readers to take action to help this bill pass. Contact the senators on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and ask them to support it. You can find a complete list of their names and phone numbers on the web site of the MSBA, www.milspousebiz.org.
So, the next time you're with a military spouse, tell him or her that you appreciate what they do, and that you support the Military Spouse Employment Act. Because the more opportunities they have, the more we'll all reap the rewards.