Supporting our Unsung Heroes: Military Spouses

Military spouses are the unsung heroes in our communities and the Armed Forces. These men and women who serve alongside their loved ones are asked to move away from family and friends to support our country’s readiness at home, during deployments and in mission transitions. We have equal responsibility to care for their needs as we do for those who wear America’s uniform. Demonstrating our commitment to this cause is critical, and advancing policies that expand employment opportunities and benefits is one way to do just that.

Too often, military spouses are forced to make professional sacrifices in support of their service members. A 2017 Department of Defense survey found their rate of unemployment stood at nearly 25 percent. The National Military Spouse Network reported earlier this year that number hasn’t decreased. One hurdle to reversing that trend is the red tape for professions requiring state licenses and certifications.

Military spouses who work in fields that require professional licenses are forced to spend time and money to obtain licensure each time they move to a new state under military orders. I’m working to make it more convenient and less expensive by championing the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act. This bipartisan legislation would give military spouses with valid professional licenses in one state reciprocity in the state where their spouse is currently serving.

We can be proud of the recent efforts in Arkansas to reduce this barrier. I encourage Congress to follow our commendable example and offer military spouses nationwide this small, but meaningful change to make their lives easier.

Just as importantly, we must continue to ensure we fulfill the promises made to military families whose loved one won’t return home because they have made the ultimate sacrifice.

During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing in late April, I shared the experience of Little Rock’s Sharri Briley. Her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Donovan Briley, was part of an elite military unit known as the Night Stalkers that used Black Hawk helicopters to transport special operations forces into combat. Deployed to Somalia with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Briley was killed on October 3, 1993 while serving with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu.

Sharri and daughter Jordan, who was five at the time of her father’s death, relied on Dependence and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits for financial support. Sharri continues to receive DIC payments, but only modest enhancements have been made since 1993. “Here we are almost twenty years later and the DIC rates have failed to keep up with the cost of living,” Briley wrote in her testimony to the committee.

We need to modernize this benefit. That’s why I introduced the Caring for Survivors Act of 2021. The legislation aims to bring payments to DIC recipients in line with payments to surviving spouses of other federal employees as DIC benefits currently lag behind other programs’ payments by nearly 12 percent. This legislation will deliver critical economic support to Briley and other families who lost a loved one in service to our country.

As a son of a World War II Air Force veteran who served in the military for more than 20 years, I understand that military service is a family affair. As we observe Military Spouse Appreciation Day on May 7, let us reflect on their important role in the Armed Forces and provide resources that meet the needs of service members and those closest to them.

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