Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) discussed employment challenges and opportunities for military spouses at the 2013 Military Officers Association of America's (MOAA) Military Spouse Symposium in Tacoma. The event, titled "Keeping a Career on the Move," brought service members, veterans, and military spouses together with local business experts and employers. Senator Murray's remarks focused on the challenges that military spouses face to support their loved ones and her personal experiences from growing up in a military family. As the former Chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Senator Murray is a leader in Washington on issues important to service members, veterans their families.
The full text of Senator Murray's speech follows:
"Thank you Admiral Ryan for that kind introduction.
"I'm so pleased to be here today as part of this important event, and I have to say that it is so great to see that so many of you came out today to access the resources, advice, and experts that MOAA has made available to help you all in what I know can be trying times.
"So of course I want to thank MOAA and all the people who have volunteered their time and energy to make this event possible.
"But first and foremost, I want to thank all of you.
"Now, often times when I thank the spouses of service members I get the same modest answers back.
"I hear -- "oh don't thank me, thank my husband or thank my wife" - or I hear "it's not that big of a deal."
"But the truth is - it is a big deal.
"So I do want to start by thanking all of you for the unprecedented sacrifices that you -- and all military spouses -- have made over the last decade.
"Thank you for picking up and moving your family -- time and time again -- in every corner of the country in order to be with your loved one.
"Thank you for braving the uncertainty that every new day brings when a spouse is in harm's way.
"Thank you for not only being Mom or Dad - but for sometimes being either, or both, when the situation calls for it.
"Thank you for juggling schedules, and practices, and homework when there is so little time in the day, and for making ends meet when money is tight.
"And finally thank you for being courageous enough, and self-assured enough to ask for help when you need it.
"For coming to an event like this to figure out how the country that your family is sacrificing for can help provide you with the skills and training to find work or to get into school.
"I know it's not easy.
"But I also know from my own life that reaching out can really pay off in the long run.
"As some of you may know, I grew up in a military family.
"My father fought in World War II, was one of the first on the beaches of Okinawa, received a Purple Heart, and came home from war to start a big family in Bothell.
"Growing up, I was not only a twin, but I was one of seven children ..
"So as you can imagine, personal space among us kids was a concept we didn't quite grasp.
"But we were a close family - not only because we slept and ate elbow-to-elbow - but also because we were a loving family that had food on the table and lived a relatively secure life.
"But when I was 15, things for my family changed.
"My father, who had up until that point run a five and dime store on Main Street in Bothell, fell ill, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and within a few short years he could no longer work.
"Suddenly everything fell to my mother.
"My mother who now found herself with 7 children, a husband whose medical bills were mounting, and very few of the skills she needed to go out and find a job that would actually pay her well enough to support our family.
"For a little while we relied on food stamps.
"For even longer my siblings and I thought there was no way we would be able to leave our family and go off to college.
"But my mother was brave enough to reach out for help -- and thankfully the country her husband had sacrificed for was there to answer her calls.
"Through a program established by the federal government my mom was able to enroll in courses at Lake Washington Vocational School where she got a two year degree in accounting that helped her find work that would support our family.
"It allowed us get back on our feet.
"It got us through a very difficult time.
"And because that support was there for my mom and for our family, today those seven kids have grown up to be a school teacher, a lawyer, a homemaker, a computer programmer, a sports writer, a firefighter, and a US Senator.
"So these days, whenever I talk to military spouses - who not only faces similar difficulties, but who also must constantly worry about the safety of their loved one.
"It forces me to ask -- are we as a nation there for today's families the way we were there for mine?
"What are we doing to keep today's military spouses and their children above water?
"The answer is that we are doing some, but not nearly enough.
"I'm happy that in recent years we have expanded many of our employment efforts so that they don't just focus on veterans and active-duty military members, but also on military spouses.
"In some instances this has worked well.
"We have seen many spouses take advantage of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, an Army program that works with Fortune 500 companies that pledge to hire our military spouses.
"And now that we have expanded it to the spouses of servicemembers in the Air Force, Navy, and Marines - it is having an even greater impact.
"We have also seen spouses utilize the Military Spouse Career Center which has centralized many important resources online.
"But for other programs, like the Transition Assistance Program that I helped expand, we still have to get the word out that military spouses can also take advantage of the training program.
"And for other federal programs like MyCAA we have been able to attract many military spouses, only to see the government cut back benefits because of limited resources.
"So the truth is that our response to the hardships and the unique situation that you all find yourselves in has been uneven at best.
"And there are still many things that can be done.
"For one, I believe that we need to do a better job of reaching out to corporate America on the benefits of hiring military spouses.
"We talk a lot about, and I authored legislation on, how to help employers understand the skills your spouses gained through their military service.
"But we also have to do more to help them understand what you bring to the table.
"Like your spouses, you are all used to the sacrifices and compromises that come with being a team player, you understand hard work and the day-to-day discipline it takes to succeed both at home and on the job, and importantly, you are resilient and resourceful in ways that I'm sure few other job candidates are.
"These are qualities we have to get across to companies large and small.
"Second, we need to do more to provide opportunities and support for the children of military families.
"One area that I have been working on is in helping military families with children who have disabilities.
"Believe it or not, today many of the behavioral therapies for children with autism, Down syndrome, and other disabilities are not covered by TRICARE. I'm fighting to change that.
"I'm also working to ensure that school districts like the ones here in the Tacoma area that are at a disadvantage because they are on or near federal land -- and don't have the tax base that other schools have -- get the support they need.
"Over the years, I have worked to get millions for the Clover Park school district here which has faced these challenges and has been affected by steep declines in enrollment due to parents moving and long-deployments.
"These school districts are in every part of the country -- and they need federal support.
"And finally, we need to offer more opportunities like this one today.
"Opportunities for you to join with your peers to swap stories about everything from help wanted ads to help finding a babysitter.
"And to meet with experts on how you can translate your diverse and sometimes even disorganized work history into a resume that will get noticed.
"To learn more about interview techniques and tips.
"To hear about workforce training programs and the skills needed to find a job in the in-demand careers in your communities.
"And to come together the way only our nation's military community can to ensure that everyone has someone to lean on.
"I applaud you all again for your determination to keep your families and your careers going in what are often difficult days.
"And I promise all of you that I will continue to fight for federal programs that help military spouses, that create opportunities for you to succeed, and that ensure that we as a nation are there for you and your family, just like it was there for my own family.
"Thank you for having me today."