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Programs Aim to Support Military Spouses, Families

By Jian DeLeon
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2011 – A new whole-of-government approach will bring the federal government’s vast reach to help millions of service members and their families, a senior Defense Department official said yesterday.

“This is a very exciting time for those of us who have been working hard to support military families,” said Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon’s office of family policy and children and youth, said during a “DODLive” bloggers roundtable.

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Thompson said the backing of President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, behind the effort to garner the support of every federal agency “is really quite amazing.”

For the past year, numerous federal agencies and the National Security Council have been working on a report, titled: "Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment." That 23-page report was released Jan. 24 in response to a presidential directive soliciting agencies for a more coordinated, comprehensive approach to improving federal support for military families.

Now, Thompson said, the next step is getting the word out about these new programs to the people they are supposed to support, noting that several teams and committees are in place to ensure an effective strategic communications plan. One of the teams, she noted, has been set up by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a staunch advocate of social media.

“We are working with a variety of entities to make sure that we have a very solid communication plan to get this information down to the military families,” Thompson said.

Some of the efforts under way include increasing the availability of child care and expanding spouse-employment programs to all military services. To support those stationed overseas, the spouse employment program has partnered with overseas companies in South Korea, Japan and Germany, Thompson said.

“We're looking at providing more user-friendly information on how to acquire a federal job with [the Office of Personnel Management],” she said, “and we'll be tracking how many spouses are employed by the federal government to see if all of the federal agencies who have committed to employing of military spouses see an increase in that availability.”

In addition, the Interior Department will open up national parks to wounded warriors to aid in rehabilitation and recovery and will offer more conservation jobs to military youth.

The main focus of the communication plan will be communicating the availability of these new programs and initiatives to the military families they are intended to support, Thompson said.

“We realized how important the strategic communication plan is going to be,” she said, “because while we have this wonderful opportunity for the federal government to get behind military families, the military families need to know what is available now to them. So that is going to be the work of the next few months.”

This, Thompson said, will save military families from having to go to every federal agency's website to figure out what they're doing to support military families. The concept of having one website has been discussed, she said, but officials realize that people access information differently and have their favorites.

While a dedicated website to these new programs is still up in the air, Thompson said, it’s evident that social media and blogs will play a big part in making sure the right people see the information.

“Social networking is the way to go, and we know that,” she said. “And I think that it's going to be really important for this to be enduring -- that our families have to take advantage of the programs that are going to be available to them.”

Barbara Thompson

Related Sites:
Special Report: Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment
White House Report
"DOD Live" Bloggers Roundtable

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