What an absolute privilege it is for me to be writing this column. When I was elected to be this year’s Military Spouse of the Year, it was one of my most humbling moments on this earth. The idea that I would have the honor to represent our military spouse community, with its amazing diversity of thought and attitudes, is frankly a little hard to imagine.
I suspect that there are those who wonder if a guy can adequately represent their interests to all those groups I’ll have the chance to talk to over the next year. If you’ve had that thought, I’d encourage you to get to know me. I don’t believe my platform or your concerns care whether I have an X or Y chromosome. I’ve walked in many of your shoes. For those that I have not, I’m willing to listen and learn. If you have an issue, concern or just want to make sure someone is listening, please always feel free to contact me at [email protected].
Now that we’ve gotten the introductions out of the way, where do we go from here? Those who have read my bio under- stand that my daughter, Kate, was born with a number of significant disabilities. Our struggles over the past nine years have been my call to action. I’ve been trying to fix a number of broken systems and improve procedures and policies related to our military’s ability to adequately care for our families impacted by chronic medical conditions and disabilities. According to the recent Blue Star Families survey, as many as one-third of military families are either enrolled in the services’ Exceptional Family Member Programs (EFMP) or acknowledge that they should be enrolled. >>
How does my advocacy translate to something meaningful for you? First off, I’m here to spread the word that your voice matters. Our military families are not just the background of our fighting force. They’re also the bedrock of what makes this nation great.
Through my own experiences and through learning about yours, I intend to explore some of the options we’ve got. I plan to highlight the successes and failures of our advocacy work: How it happened, and what we’ve learned.
Each month, I’ll touch on a new subject to show you how important our grassroots efforts are to improving our lives and our ability to support our military men and women, and hence impact on the national security of our amazing country. Here is the first:
WHO SHE IS: Rachel Kenyon, active- duty Guard spouse and mom of a daughter with autism.
BETTER KNOWN AS: “Mrs. Sergeant Major,” writer of the blog stimcity.org.
WHAT SHE’S DONE: Rachel went to her Congressman, Rep. John Larson (D- CT), and made the case that there were significant policy deficits related to Tricare’s coverage of our military kids impacted by autism. Rep. Larson, along with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), introduced the bipartisan Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act (HR 2288: read more about the specifics at: cmkaa.org). The House recently passed the bill as an amendment to its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). By the time it is published, the Senate will most likely have made a decision one way or the other on its own amendment on the issue.
WHAT MATTERS: Rachel told her story. She noted a problem, and then she got involved. It’s just the first of many steps, but it is by far the most important. I can’t guarantee whether or not this particular issue will be resolved this year (we are trying). But I can tell you without a doubt that what Rachel did was heroic. It’s not easy to put yourself or your family out there as “having issues” with a DOD policy-or for that matter to put yourself out there for public consideration, particularly if the issue might be controversial to some.
Every one of us has it within ourselves to make a difference like Rachel. Whether it’s at the local, state or national level doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are lending your voice to making our world a better place.
If you’re already doing this, I’d love to hear about it. (You’ve got my e-mail address.) I’d also like to hear about what you might have learned from a time when things didn’t go as well as you expected. Either way, I implore you to become involved.
THIS ELECTION YEAR
This year in particular has the potential to be a heartbreaker for our military families if we fail to ensure that our voices are part of these upcoming political discussions. No less than the direction of our military and our nation may very well be decided this November and in the subsequent months of the Congressional lame duck session (the time between the election and the new Congress being sworn in).
My next column will be a discussion of the important issues for military families in the next election and how to ensure your vote counts.
So, that’s me. In the end, I’m about starting a dialogue so that all military families feel empowered to make a difference, no matter what service, no matter what rank your spouse might wear, or no matter what your background might be.
We can do this, and I hope you’ll join me for what I suspect is going to be a mighty interesting ride.