The Congressional Baby Caucus celebrated its 5th birthday with a briefing on veterans and families. The briefing was a follow up to the Caucus’s initial briefing five years ago which also focused on military families with young children. The briefing included a panel of three that included one program expert and two veterans to reflect on the current challenges of military families, especially those transitioning out of the military. Panelists included Katherine Rosenblum, Ph.D., Director, STRoNG Military Families Program, Melissa Hudson,, Veteran Parent, Brian Pate, Lieutenant Colonel USMCR.
The gathering also heard remarks from caucus co-chairs Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA). DeLauro highlighted a number of statistics in her remarks including, 42% of children of Active-Duty members are under the age of five, Active-Duty, Guard and Reserve families together have approximately 363,000 children under the age of three. She also outlined the general concerns that deployment itself created certain stress within the population and how that may be compounded if a veteran comes back with injuries and other challenges such as PTSD. She hopes to focus Congress’s attention on ways to look at policy in a way that might benefit these families and singled out potential changes to the child tax credit as a possible target for improvements.
Dr. Rosenberg talked about some projects through the University of Michigan that are targeted to service members, and veterans. In the coming years an average of 250,000 Active-Duty members will be transitioning out of service. She provided data from the state of Illinois that showed that this population of veteran families had an unemployment rate of around 13%, 7% were living below the poverty rate, and they tended to have younger children.
Brian Pate discussed his personal experience during deployment and highlighted four areas that need addressing: family-readiness when a member is ready to deploy, communication while on assignment in an effort to help keep families connected while away, post-deployment services that prepare the returning soldier with the family—particularly programs that prepare you for reunification with infants and toddlers, and understanding how past service continues to have an impact.
He also highlighted a need that is often overlooked, that services are lost to the family once a soldier transfers from active duty to veteran status. The veteran may have some limited services including health care but his or her family may lose many critical services including access to health care.