See this and more in the January digital issue of Military Spouse Magazine
When you see something wrong in the military community, is there anything you can do about it?
Can one person’s voice truly bring about change? Recently, several military spouses have demonstrated the value of raising our voices and being advocates for our community. If you discover a problem that seems to be widespread across the military community, here’s what you can do:
Collect Evidence and Data
It’s difficult to bring about change without recorded evidence. Whenever you file complaints with your base or Public Private Venture (PPV) company, document the problems. Take photos of issues. Record dates of phone calls and who you spoke with. Save tickets from maintenance requests. Put complaints into writing and save the emails. You can also gather evidence from other military families.
How common is the problem on your base? Across the country? Research and gather data to report numbers. Collect stories, photos, and evidence from other military families to gauge the severity of the problem.
Elevate Your Complaint
If the base housing or transportation office isn’t addressing your issue, then escalate it. For housing, the Housing Management Office provides oversight. Talk to your spouse about approaching his chain of command. Service members may hesitate to share “personal” problems with their leadership, but ultimately military leaders are concerned with service members’ well-being. If a health, safety, or financial concern is impacting the service member’s family, then the command will want to address it. Use Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE) complaints to escalate your concern to base leadership. You can also get support from the base Judge Advocate General (JAG) office, from offbase physicians, or from outside organizations like the Health Department or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
If your research and inquiries haven’t resolved the issue, build your movement using grassroots efforts. Collaborate with other families from your base or branch to voice the problem. Create Facebook groups where others with a similar complaint can be heard. Create a petition and go public with your concern. The wording of a petition is important: clearly state the problem, then propose some suggested solutions. You will want to share your petition in a variety of Facebook groups and online locations, then consistently remind people about it.
Start with your own state senators and representatives, but don’t be afraid to explore additional options. Look for congressmen heading relevant committees. You can contact their chief of staff to ask for a congressional hearing about this concern. Keep your message clear and find a way to make your petition relevant to that congressman and his constituents.
ADVOCACY IN ACTION:
ISSUE: POOR CONDITION OF BASE HOUSING
Numerous military families have complained about health and safety concerns while living in base housing. From lead poisoning to unclean drinking water to mold and asbestos, some base housing does not offer the same quality and standards that can be found in off-base neighborhoods. Complaints against base housing conditions are complicated by the fact that housing is managed by PPV companies. And, because the base is federal land, the base and the private management companies can restrict access to outside organizations like the Health Department, EPA, and pest control companies.
Military spouse Crystal Cornwall has become an advocate for military families whose complaints against base housing are not being taken seriously. She has spoken to hundreds of families from 30 different bases, and each one has already reported problems to housing and their PPV. She has followed the steps above to document complaints, gather support, and help military families become advocates for themselves by using available resources.
Crystal said, “We cannot continue to allow the military and PPVs to systematically poison our families and our children. We have to hold them accountable. The only way to bring about change is through legislation and litigation. When is enough sickness and death enough? Service members have to stand up for their families.”
ISSUE: IMPROPER BILLING
Soon after the government rolled out the Resident Energy Conservation Program (RECP) in 2012, military families noticed inconsistencies in their electric bills. Older base housing units were not wired individually, so some residents were charged for their neighbor’s bills or even for public street lamps. When residents complained about improper billing, the housing and energy companies blamed each other. Meanwhile, military families received energy bills for hundreds of dollars and had no way to fight them. In December 2016, after hearing countless complaints from military families, I began documenting and compiling evidence on my website The Seasoned Spouse. I soon had accounts of a systemic problem across the country, at multiple bases from all branches. With this evidence, we gained the attention of local news stations and the state congressman. Our petition to end the unfair billing practices of the RECP received over 50,000 signatures.
ISSUE: POOR MOVING PROCESSES
During PCS moves, it is common to encounter problems with the moving company, which can range from accidental damage to intentional theft or neglect. This summer, after hearing horrific moving stories from numerous military families, one spouse decided to do something about it. Megan Harless created a petition citing the problems with the current PCS process, including:
–Moving companies not properly vetting employees. This prevented the employees from accessing the base on moving day, which hindered moves.
-Companies that negligently handled household goods continuing to receive government contracts for future PCS moves.
-Families filing claims receiving a small percentage of reimbursement money.
Since the petition launched in August 2018, it has collected over 100,000 signatures and gained the attention of multiple leaders in the military and in Congress. Four senators have collaborated to draft a letter calling for solutions and greater transparency in the PCS process. The petition is creating changes in legislation that will bring improvements to military families. Megan had this to say about the petition and legislation process:
“Doing my research and knowing that it was a problem military wide, and that many people would care about it, I was able to open up my audience even wider. Don’t expect miracles overnight. There is a way that things are done in Washington. Sometimes things move fast, but it’s usually slow.”