Today, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, co-chair of the Military Family Caucus, hosted the 9th annual Military Family Summit at Fairchild Air Force Base. The Military Family Summit brings together service members and their families with Department of Defense officials and military family support organizations to discuss the most pressing issues facing military families today – namely pay and benefits, community integration and transition, and the health and well-being of families and children.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie was the keynote speaker at this year’s Summit. Second Lady Karen Pence and Ivanka Trump also participated via special video messages for the men and women who serve at Fairchild.
The following are excerpts of Cathy’s remarks as prepared for delivery.
The Military Family Summit
“The military community holds a special place in my heart. As you may know, my husband, Brian Rodgers, spent 26 years in the Navy. We met after he retired, but his experience opened my eyes further to the realities of military service—especially the impact on families. Whenever I am a little grumpy about being apart from my family for a few days, Brian would respond: think about those military families.
“When someone joins the military, it’s not just a job—it’s a family commitment to our country. That’s why Rep. Sanford Bishop and I co-founded the bipartisan Congressional Military Family Caucus years ago. Through the caucus we’ve addressed critical issues that uniquely challenge military families with a particular focus on mental health, Wounded Warrior support, health care, military spouse employment, the effects of multiple deployments, and education.
“I hear these concerns from members of our military, which is why every year, Sanford Bishop and I host our annual Military Family Summit. Unfortunately, Rep. Bishop couldn’t make the trip to Spokane this year. His district was hit hard by Hurricane Michael, so he’s on the ground in Georgia. I’m thankful that members of his staff are with us today, who told us Fort Benning avoided major damage. My prayers for safety continue to be with Sanford, everyone on the Gulf Coast, including our service members, as they work to recover.”
More Job Opportunities for Military Spouses
“Because of our work to cut taxes and eliminate red tape, our economy is booming. With more jobs and bigger paychecks, Americans are Better Off Now. The overall unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, the lowest it’s been in nearly 5 decades. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for military spouses is 28 percent. That’s quite a gap.
“With more than 7 million jobs available in America, more work needs to be done to help military spouses find a good paying job, especially when you relocate. Last year, the Military Family Caucus worked on a provision that is now law for spouses to be reimbursed for new licenses due to a move. For instance, if your husband or wife is reassigned to Fairchild, and you need a nursing license in Washington, you can be reimbursed for that cost up to $500. It’s just one way we’ve worked to knock down a barrier to employment that is unique to military families.”
Building a Stronger Military
“I’ve said this before, that in order for America to be a diplomatic power. It must be a military power. To be a military power, it needs to be an economic power. It’s all connected, and military families are the faces behind every part.
“That’s why, in addition to creating more opportunities in a growing economy, we’ve also kept our promises to rebuild the military and deliver the biggest pay raise for our troops in nearly a decade.
“Whether your spouse is on the frontlines or training here at Fairchild, you deserve every assurance that they are safe and that they have the training and equipment they need to do their jobs.
“Unfortunately, our armed forces had been overstretched, undertrained and depleted. Our military was forced to do more with less. It created a readiness crisis that has jeopardized our troops’ lives and threatened our national security. In 2017, more troops were killed in training accidents than in combat. That same year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Congress that America had diminished military might. He said, “Every operating domain – including outer space, air, sea, undersea, land and cyberspace – is contested.”
“2 years ago, we said there must be a Better Way to keep us safe. So we’ve provided for the largest increase in 15 years for military funding and funded the military for a full year on time for the first time in decade. That includes $34 billion to support military families. I also helped secure 12 more tankers for Fairchild and worked to expedite their delivery. This squadron of tankers will make Fairchild the largest tanker base in the country will make our Air Force base a center of excellence.”
Restoring Trust at the VA
“Together with President Trump and Vice President Pence, we are also making sure that we are caring for our nation’s heroes when they come home. That means rebuilding trust and accountability at the VA.
“We just funded the VA with its largest dollar amount in history. Earlier this year, I helped pass the VA MISSION Act to make the VA work better for Eastern Washington veterans. It consolidates the VA’s multiple community care programs and extends the Choice Program, so veterans get the care they have earned when they need it. I also led in advocating for the reopening of 24-hour urgent care in Spokane. I’m also leading to make the Spokane VA a “teaching hospital. So doctors can go to medical school here in Spokane, train at the Spokane VA, and then continue to serve our veterans here in the Inland Northwest.
“When it comes time for your family to access the VA services, the red carpet should be rolled out for you. The VA’s mission is to care for those who have borne the battle, that of course includes our men and women in uniform and their families.
“I’m very grateful that the Secretary of the VA Robert Wilkie is here with us today. He’s leading to rebuild trust and restore the VA’s mission so the agency best serves our troops and their families once they transition from the DOD to the VA.That mission doesn’t start when your spouse is no longer active duty. It starts right now.”