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Posts Tagged ‘Department of Defense’

By Jim Knotts
President and CEO, Operation Homefront

Times are tense. Much has been said lately in regards to how the Department of Defense will balance its books, following more than 12 years of war.

infographic-operation-homefront-military-family-impact

While we expanded our reach, and hired more staff to address critical program needs last year, we also achieved an overall 93% efficiency, holding a three-year average of 94%. This means that for every dollar we receive from our generous donors and partners, 94 cents goes directly to the programs and services we provide. (Click on infographic for full size version.)

How does the DoD maintain the world’s finest fighting force, with the right investment in people and associated benefits, while equipping them with superior technology to win decisively on the battlefield?

I don’t envy the difficult choices required by our military leaders and elected officials, as the threats to our security remain real and uncertain – all at the same time. Amidst the back drop and threat of sequestration, their challenge is all the more difficult.

At no point in our nation’s history have we been on a war footing for any longer period of time, nor has that war been fought by a smaller percentage of the population. How we effectively communicate the stories and needs of this valiant 1%, to the other 99%, will prove critical for how successful we are in caring for this current generation of patriots and their families.  And there is much work ahead of us.

More than 2 million service members have deployed since 9/11. Now is not the time to turn away from the emergency needs and longer term support of this community – both active duty and veterans – that we see daily at Operation Homefront. And, it might seem that fewer deployments and a corresponding drop in combat-related injuries would reduce the need for the types of services we provide.

kenneth-walker-operation-homefront

Wounded warrior Kenneth Walker said he heard about Operation Homefront when he only had $40 left in his pocket. He moved into our wounded warrior village and lived rent-free while he got back on his feet. He just settled into a new home with his wife and children.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the needs of those we serve are greater than ever.

In 2013, we provided more than $4 million in assistance for some of the most basic needs – food, rent and utilities. That was a 263% increase over the year before. And while we typically support active duty military families dealing with the associated challenges of deployments and frequent relocations, our assistance numbers show an increasing percentage of the post 9/11 veteran population needing our help as well. In fact, last year, more than 80% of our emergency assistance grants were made to wounded, ill and injured.

But we need to do more. And we need to focus more on not only helping military families get through a crisis but helping them avoid one in the first place.  In 2014, we’re shifting our focus from intervention to transformation.

Anywhere from half a million to a million service members could leave the military over the next five years. We know that the mix of programs and services we offer will continue to evolve with that growing population. And we’ve anticipated and planned for this shift.

For example, in 2012, thanks to generous bank partners JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo and Bank of America, we began our Homes on the Homefront program, providing mortgage-free homes to qualifying veterans and military families, of any era. In the first full year of the program, last year, we placed 188 families in homes, helping them save more than $41 million in mortgage payments over an average 30-year loan. Home ownership – an essential part of the American Dream – is something our nation’s veterans and their families have earned through their service, affording a transformative generational impact for decades to come.

Jim Knotts

Jim Knotts
President and CEO
Operation Homefront

We also work closely through collaborations with other nonprofits focused on improving the lives of our military families. We know that many crisis situations may be preventable through better financial education. So just a few weeks ago, we entered into a partnership with the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line, working together to extend resources to the mutual client families we serve with financial planning and budgeting resources.

As we look ahead through the balance of this year and beyond, we know that the nonprofits who support the military and veteran communities will confront similar significant issues as those faced by our government leaders. The nonprofits who endure will be those who seize the opportunity to adapt to the evolving needs of our military families and veterans. Those who succeed will do so by transforming lives, measuring the results and being agile enough to adapt as needs change.

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by Catherine McCarthy

These are the words that have come to define what is known as “Sequestration.”  And it’s a feature, not a bug.  Sequestration, part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, was intended to give a very real incentive to Congress to reduce the annual deficit by $1.2 billion by the end of 2012.  If they failed to do so, and to date they have, a very unwieldy axe was to be taken to the National Security budget.  It was meant to produce such an undesirable result that Congress would be loathe to not come up with something, anything, to prevent it from taking effect.

These automatic cuts are scheduled to occur on March 1after an 11th hour reprieve at the beginning of the year.  It was frustrating this morning to hear our local news refer to that as “next month.”  As of the writing of this blog, next month is actually next week.

This is going to hurt.

It will hurt our military families, who already shoulder a heavy burden, emotionally and financially.  Longer deployments, no ability to plan, a life of limbo, more stress.  Base services potentially cut, curtailed or eliminated, like commissaries, exchanges, Family Service Centers, gyms, etc. Many of those positions are held by military spouses, and others are employed by contractors and agencies that support our military.

With maintenance, training and equipment being sidelined, it could also cost lives.

It will hurt our veterans.  More than two out of five of the approximately 800,000 Department of Defense employees facing furloughs are veterans. Unemployment for 18-24 year old veterans was over 20 percent for 2012. Still more are employed by private industries who facilitate the readiness and capability of our armed services, and who are currently looking at their bottom line and who may be sent a layoff notice.

The impact won’t just be immediate in nature.  If, and when, we can turn it around, will the skilled workers still be there?  And in the years to come, will we experience the talent drain and beat feet that we did in the 1990s? It takes years to rebuild from that.  And a great deal of money.

It will hurt us all. Congressional Budget Office estimates sequestration would cut additional 1.4% to 2.0% off economic growth in 2013. Fourth quarter 2012 Gross Domestic Product already contracted for the first time in over 3 years on defense cuts. When people don’t have money, or jobs, they don’t spend money.

In an interview with NPR, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey is quoted, “We will weather this. The military is never going to fail to answer the call when the nation is threatened. So we will weather this, but shame on us all if we weather it at the expense of those who choose to serve in uniform.”

Yes, we will weather this.  The question is how bad is this storm going to be and how long will it take to pick up the pieces?

Addtional Info:

DoD Special Report on Sequestration

Budget Uncertainty Impact on the US Army 

Defense Leaders Brief Press on DoD Worker Furloughs 2/20/2013

DoD Details States Hit Hardest by Sequestration

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Is the future of our all-volunteer force at risk because of the cost of expensive family benefits?

Sound crazy? Well, according to a recent news report, at least one unnamed four-star leader recently lamented that the Department of Defense has turned into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist.

Renowned military reporter Tom Philpott’s Aug. 5 column shared findings from the Quadrennial Defense Independent Review Panel and comments from defense industry experts. Personnel costs have grown due to benefit expansions such as TRICARE for life, more pharmacy perks, better survivor benefits, more generous housing allowances, active duty pay raises and more.

Without those benefits to help take care of their families, how is the military going to continue to recruit and retain volunteers to put their lives on the line, leave their families for a year or more, and give up so much more the rest of us take for granted?

And here’s something that really leaped out at me:

“(Ret. Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Gen. Arnold) Punaro, who served as staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee for eight years, noted that much of the recent entitlement growth has helped only retirees and their families, a population that now outnumbers the active duty community.”

Military leaders from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the Chief of Staff of the Army have reiterated the importance of family support to the morale and ultimately the success of our service members on the battlefield. Secretary of Defense Gates has promised to do all he can to preserve funding for military programs at the same time as he reduced overall defense spending.

I’m thrilled that they’ve expanded benefits for families. We’ve heard from families who say they wouldn’t be able to properly care for their children without EFMP.

But from the perspective of someone who works for a nonprofit that aids military families in need, there are still a lot of holes to plug. I know spouses who can’t get the medications they need for their kids from military pharmacies, being told “We’re here to serve soldiers, not families.” Even with $9 prescriptions, the Burfield family in Georgia is relying on help from Operation Homefront Georgia to pay their bills because all three of their children suffer from a deadly liver disease.

I don’t have a handy solution to these budget problems. I wish I did. But I don’t think cutting benefits to families and retirees is the answer.

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I can’t imagine the pain and stress of a service member’s funeral. The hurt, confusion and anger of losing a loved one on top of dealing with paper work and red tape would drive anyone to emotional extremes.

And it does. Fights between family members over how and where service members should be laid to rest have prompted lawmakers to start crafting legislation to quell the feuds.

Turns out state law — not DoD paperwork — is the determining factor in who claims the body. In one case, that meant an absent father got preference over the single mother who raised a fallen soldier, even though the soldier had designated his mother as his emergency contact. The father decided to bury the son in a state he’d never even been to. The mother was understandably devastated.

In Georgia, the new law requires the state to be true to the service member selected on DoD forms. Several other states are following.

We can’t legislate civility among fractious families. But if new laws can guarantee a service member’s final wishes are respected, surely that can be of some comfort to grieving families.

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